State money to bolster track purses

Industry will receive supplement after July 1

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

Maryland horse racing will begin receiving about $4.5 million in purse money from the state sometime after July 1, as stipulated in a bill adopted last week as part of the state budget.

Racing leaders aren't sure how the money will be dispersed. All they know is that it will be available during the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2002, and ending June 30, 2003.

"It's about half of the old purse supplement," said Tom Chuckas Jr., chief executive officer of Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County. "But at this point anything helps."

Racing lost its $10 million annual grant from the state last year, and it seemed as if no purse subsidy would be forthcoming this year. But Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, filed the $4.5 million purse bill toward the end of the session. Thoroughbred racing will receive 70 percent, harness racing 30 percent.

Although the money will technically come from the state, it is actually racing's money raised from increased takeout at Pimlico and Laurel Park. Money from the increased takeout, the amount withheld from each wager, was supposed to back the sale of bonds to pay for track improvements.

Although the state never sold the bonds and the improvement plan was disbanded, the takeout increase - about 1.5 percent - was not rescinded. Lawmakers might have absorbed all the takeout proceeds into the state budget if not for Bromwell's bill.

So now, Maryland gamblers will subsidize purses through their wagers.

"That's just larceny for another year," said Bob Beck, a retired teacher from Wheaton who bets regularly at Laurel Park. "The bettor is always screwed."

NOTES: The Maryland Jockey Club's decision to board up the Pimlico infield toteboard and replace it with a 26-by-32-foot video screen is drawing negative reviews. The screen does not display as much information as the old toteboard, and it is difficult to see, especially in late-afternoon sunlight.

Lou Raffetto Jr., MJC chief operating officer, defended the decision to install the screen, calling it "state of the art."

Arianna's Passion, the lone out-of-state entrant in the six-horse field, captured the $50,000 Primonetta Stakes yesterday at Pimlico. The 4-year-old filly led gate to wire as the 7-2 second choice. Kimbralata, the 2-5 favorite, finished third.

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