Legislation to keep Preakness in city is sought

Mayor, comptroller back bill to transfer trademark ownership rights to state

March 06, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Evoking memories of the loss of the Baltimore Colts, Mayor Martin O'Malley and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer urged lawmakers yesterday to pass legislation to ensure the Preakness remains in Baltimore.

O'Malley and Schaefer appeared together to back a bill that would require the owner of Pimlico Race Course to transfer ownership rights to the Preakness trademark to the state as a condition of receiving a license to operate slot machines at the track.

Under the legislation, sponsored by Del. Ann Marie Doory, the track owners would continue to have the right to use and profit from the Preakness name. However, they could not move the Triple Crown race from Baltimore.

O'Malley told the House Ways and Means Committee that the Preakness helps define Maryland. "The economic development impact cannot be understated. It's the equivalent of having a Super Bowl in our state every year," he said.

Pimlico's current owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., has stated that it would not move the Preakness out of Maryland. But Schaefer recalled that when he was mayor, Colts owner Robert Irsay promised he would never move the Colts out of Baltimore - at a time when Irsay had come to terms with the mayor of Indianapolis. "Once it's gone, it'll rarely ever come back," Schaefer warned.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has proposed locating 10,500 slot machines at four Maryland racetracks, including 3,000 at Pimlico.

Doory said the idea of insisting on ownership rights as a condition of a slots license was suggested by Baltimore attorney Richard T. Stansbury.

Stansbury noted that racetrack owners have said they need slots to ensure the health of the Maryland racing industry.

"We're giving them something to survive. Shouldn't there be a quid pro quo?" he said.

Yes, said racetrack lobbyists - but not in the form of ownership. Alan M. Rifkin, lobbyist for the Maryland Jockey Club, said the track owners' objections were "technical rather than substantive."

Rifkin, whose client was acquired by Magna last year, said the state should get its guarantee that the Preakness will remain in the form of a contract rather than ownership rights.

"A contract will bind us for the duration of that license," he said. Under the governor's bill, the license would be good for 20 years. Rifkin said that while track owners would get profits from Preakness under Doory's bill, they would lose assets on the company balance sheet.

Paul Tiburzi, a lobbyist for Magna, sought to reassure legislators. "Magna has an unequivocal commitment not to move the Preakness from Baltimore," he told the panel. Tiburzi said a contract would be more binding on the company than a law, which could be repealed.

Doory, a Baltimore Democrat, was unconvinced - insisting that ownership is the state's best protection.

Stansbury, a contracts lawyer, agreed. "I spend half my time working on contracts that have been breached," he said. "To say it's more binding that legislation is preposterous."

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