Racing legislation enters homestretch

Bill provides $10 million to raise purses at tracks

April 08, 1999|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

A bill pledging $10 million in state money to boost racing purses and authorizing a third thoroughbred track in Maryland was passed unanimously by a House committee yesterday, beginning a late-session stretch run.

The legislation is part of a deal announced last week between track owners and Gov. Parris N. Glendening for the state to continue supplementing racing purses in exchange for improvements to track facilities.

The agreement gives the issue powerful momentum, but with the session due to end Monday, time is running out.

"The horses are out on the track," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, celebrating yesterday's vote by the Ways and Means Committee. The Allegany Democrat is a prime supporter of a provision in the bill allowing a third thoroughbred track, to be in his county.

Glendening, often at odds with racing industry leaders who have pushed for slot machines at Maryland tracks, argues that the addition of a third track and improvements to the existing facilities are well-worth continuing the $10 million subsidy for purses.

"The governor achieved some significant commitments from current ownership at Laurel and Pimlico [race courses] to make some significant changes, and this enables us to live up to our end of that agreement," said Glendening spokesman Ray Feldmann.

Another key to the deal is that Joseph A. De Francis, controlling owner of Laurel and Pimlico racetracks and a major supporter of slot machines, has essentially agreed to drop the issue of slots for the time being.

De Francis said in a letter delivered to Glendening last week that he has a plan to make "substantial" physical improvements to his racetracks "which does not rely on slot machines in any way." He also said in the letter that he would not oppose the licensing of a new racetrack and off-track betting parlor in Western Maryland.

The third track, if built, could end up at a location near Cumberland. William M. Rickman, a Montgomery County builder and president of the Delaware Park racetrack, has announced his interest in building a track and off-track betting facility there.

The bill must pass the full House and move through the Senate. It appears to have a chance of reaching the finish line -- not only because of the agreement and Taylor's backing, but also because the legislation was tied to another racing bill dear to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Miller's bill authorizes the use of $500,000 from uncashed wagering slips to boost purses for the Maryland Million, a day of racing for Maryland-bred horses.

Pub Date: 4/08/99

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