New facilities, help with purses urged

Task force, seeing disaster ahead, will take case to legislature

Horse Racing

January 10, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

The Keep It In Maryland task force yesterday called on the state to assist in providing new facilities for the horse racing industry to help "level the playing field" between the lottery and racing and to help find a way to increase purses.

Representatives of the KIM task force, the Maryland Racing Commission and various segments of Maryland's horse industry will present their case to the Maryland Senate Finance Committee on Jan. 25.

Some of what state legislators will hear was voiced at yesterday's racing commission meeting. Though the industry can get through this year, racing interests say they need action soon to avert disaster in 2008.

"We're running on fumes right now," said Wayne Wright, Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association executive secretary. "We're doing it with mirrors, by cutting racing days, stakes and races to make the purses look better. But at the end of 2007, the money we're using now will be gone and, without a major subsidy out of Annapolis, well, something has to give. Tough times are ahead."

Lou Raffetto, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club - which runs Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course - said the tracks and horsemen have been cooperating and that the cut in racing days, races and stakes had built a $7.5 million surplus by August 2005, which has been used to supplement purses over the past 1 1/2 years.

"Coming in to 2007, we have less than $3 million," Raffetto said. "By Dec. 31, we'll be down to zero. ... We've eaten up $7.5 million in a year and a half at our current purse limits over 184 days. When it's gone, it's gone."

Laurel gives out about $200,000 a day in purse money. Wright speculates purse money at Philadelphia Park could reach as much as $400,000 next year with the addition of slots revenue.

Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said the state breeding industry is also hurting, with breeding farms and stock trickling into other states. The Pennsylvania-bred fund, now subsidized by slots money, is expected to have $25 million in it by the end of the year.

"It's devastating to our breeders," Goodall told the commissioners.

Among the KIM report suggestions:

Purse structure be enhanced by a $20 million state subsidy that would help stabilize the industry until Maryland approves slots.

Racing adjust its business model from gambling-based to total destination-based.

Facilities be modernized, or new ones, such as a downtown track that has been on the Maryland Stadium Authority's radar for some time, be developed.

An improved marketing plan be developed and paid for in part by state lottery money that comes from a new lottery game "Racetrax," which is designed to attract racing fans.

KIM task force chairman John Franzone said something shocking is needed to open the eyes of the state legislature to the pressing needs of the industry.

"When the Colts picked up and left town, that got things rolling," he said. "The rebuilding of [Laurel and Pimlico] has to happen. Even if there are no slots, how do you help these facilities rebuild? What exacerbates the situation is that all the surrounding states have all the necessary equipment to wipe us out. They have sophisticated air forces while we're in a Piper Cub."

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