Slots in Maryland

An industry is at stake

March 21, 2004|By John Lee Jr. and Grove Miller

IF THE $10.6 BILLION Maryland horse industry loses the race to have slots installed at racetracks, the state will lose jobs, tax revenue, recreational and tourist opportunities, beautiful open space and a big part of its heritage.

Maryland horse farms are viable agricultural businesses. Agriculture is Maryland's No. 1 industry, and it includes:

$5.2 billion worth of equine-related assets in Maryland.

$3.9 billion worth of land, fencing and facilities owned by Maryland horse people. It comprises more than 685,000 acres, 10 percent of the state's land.

20,200 horse farms.

An economic impact of $1.5 billion, including more than 20,000 jobs.

87,000 horses worth $680 million - 60 percent for recreational purposes, 40 percent for racing.

Maryland horse racing lost its exclusivity in state gambling years ago. And it now faces fierce competition from lotteries, casinos and slot machines in neighboring states.

Despite its position of national leadership in the not-so-distant-past, the horse breeding industry in Maryland is in a serious struggle for survival. It needs incentive now to stay in Maryland. Breeding animals are leaving the state because their owners are taking advantage of more lucrative incentive programs in rival states.

Delaware, New York, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania recognize the importance of horse breeding to their economies and have significantly increased incentives to promote the growth and development of horse breeding farms.

Maryland has not kept pace. Simply stated, if the horse breeding industry continues to leave, it will reach a point at which maintaining the Maryland farms will not be economically feasible. Once these businesses close and move to other states, Maryland's economy will be greatly impacted - negatively.

Government and business leaders realize that it is far more economical to retain a business than to recruit new business.

Horse farms represent small, medium and large areas of open space that usually are not cultivated and fertilized, acting as buffers to our precious waterways. And the "hay burners" maintain other areas of agricultural open space by virtue of their needs. For example, nearby farms contribute to the feed and other needs of horses, including hay and straw. (Did you ever see the huge burlap bags full of carrots some of these horses love?)

To the public, racetracks equate to the horse industry. Racetracks are center stage. They put on the show, attract the crowds and receive the publicity. The owners, trainers and racehorses are the players.

But not seen are the breeders who produce the horses, who train and maintain them and who mend the fences, paint the barns and tend to the needs of the farms. In fact, the majority of the economic impact of the industry is on non-track facilities.

Also unseen, Maryland has 40,000 young people in 4-H clubs, with equine specialists dedicated to programs in equine science and management.

Much of the horse industry is reasonably flexible and very mobile. But the breeding farms depend entirely on the success of their Maryland-bred horses to stay in business. They are not mobile. They represent investments that are dependent on the horses - their product - to generate income. The farms are completely dependent on the success of the horse industry within the state for their survival.

Maryland has an opportunity to re-establish itself as a leader in the horse breeding industry by receiving a percentage of the revenue from the proposed installation of slot machines. We have the organization and people necessary to bring back the glory of Maryland's horse industry.

John Lee Jr. is chairman of the Cecil County Economic Development Agricultural Advisory Board. Grove Miller is chairman of the Economic Development Equine Industry Task Force. Both are volunteers.

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