Community isn't surprised by Magna's Pimlico plans

September 08, 2005|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A Canadian company's plans to slash live racing dates at Pimlico Race Course came as no surprise yesterday to community leaders who live near the struggling track.

But how they felt about the potential threat of the track's closing or the Preakness Stakes leaving town depended on their views on slot machine gambling.

Magna Entertainment Corp. says it needs slots proceeds to compete with tracks in neighboring states that use revenue from the machines to supplement the purses paid on top finishing horses. But with the slots debate paralyzing Annapolis, the company said yesterday that it would slash racing dates at Pimlico from 60 to 18.

"I'm very alarmed," said Jean Yarborough, a Park Heights community leader who lives a block from the track and supports allowing slots at the racetrack she says is an important part of city history.

But Aaron Meisner, a slots opponent who lives in nearby Mount Washington, said he would rather see the track close than be transformed into a huge slots casino.

"Mount Washington is no different from any other community in the state in that while nobody wants to see the end of horse racing, nobody wants an enormous casino right in their neighborhood," he said.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Democrat who represents the Pimlico area, said she's found Magna to be a good corporate neighbor. The company has made efforts to provide jobs for people from the surrounding community, she said, and she's hopeful that it will follow through on promises to keep the Preakness at Pimlico.

"They've always said the owner of Magna is about horses and about horse racing, and if that's true, then this should be a good move for the industry, probably a bad move for the horsemen who would like to have more days, and the jury's still out on the community," Gladden said.

Clifford Mitchell, president of the Mount Washington Improvement Association, said that community's position has not changed since it voted to oppose allowing slots at Pimlico. However, he said, Magna's decision to cut racing might reopen debate.

"It's a huge parcel of land and it's right on our border," he said. "It has the potential to affect us for good and for bad. The racetrack might not be the worst neighbor that we could have."

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