Racing dispute holds up $5M bid

Factions try to agree so Taylor will submit purse-assistance bill

Horse Racing

March 07, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Leaders of Maryland's racing industry are scrambling to come together so they can persuade the General Assembly to give them as much as $5 million for purses.

The effort follows a decision on Monday by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who chose not to introduce a bill on racing's behalf because factions disagreed on its components.

Racing proponents are trying to secure money for thoroughbred and standardbred purses, the prizes for which horses race. They hope to get the subsidy from a fund the state had set aside for track improvements.

Asked whether it's a long shot to get that money in the budget-crisis atmosphere of this legislative session, Taylor said: "I'll guarantee that it is."

Taylor had hoped to introduce a multi-faceted bill that was endorsed last week by the Maryland Racing Commission. He wanted industry-wide consensus on matters beyond the purse money, but the harness segment balked.

The bill would have eliminated the so-called "6:15" law that gives the harness faction the right, in a dispute with the thoroughbred side, to shut down simulcasting after 6:15 p.m. The harness segment had expected but did not get a trade-off in the form of the unequivocal right to offer out-of-state thoroughbred simulcasts to its bettors without interference by the owners of Pimlico and Laurel Park.

"From Day One, our position has been the same; it was always a trade," said Tom Chuckas, chief executive officer of Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County. "We had no choice but to go against it."

Both the harness faction and the owners of Pimlico and Laurel Park agree on several aspects at the heart of the commission's proposed bill. They would eliminate the Maryland Racing Facility Redevelopment Program, which is a failed effort to sell bonds to finance track improvements through increased takeout; reduce takeout (that portion of bets not returned in payoffs) to its level before July 1, 2000, and devote to purses the money raised by the takeout increase, as well as revenue from uncashed pari-mutuel tickets.

An estimated $5 million is expected to accumulate by June 30 from those two sources. However, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has earmarked $3.7 million of that for the state's general use. It is not clear how much, if any, of the $5 million would be available for purses.

Taylor said he would not support a bill containing only those aspects, insisting on one that eliminates strife between harness and thoroughbred factions. So industry leaders responded.

"Discussions are ongoing," said Alan Foreman, lawyer for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "It's still perking."

Magna buys Lone Star

Magna Entertainment Corp. announced last night its purchase of Lone Star Park. The six-year-old horse track in Grand Prairie, Texas, becomes the 11th in the growing Magna stable.

MEC is an offshoot of Frank Stronach's Magna International Inc., an international auto-parts maker. Included in its purchases since 1998 are Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park.

Magna has been negotiating to buy all or part of Pimlico and Laurel Park, according to industry sources. Joe De Francis, principal owner of the tracks, has declined to identify suitors.

Sun staff writer Jon Morgan contributed to this article.

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