State Senate approves Preakness bill

April 11, 2009|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill that would authorize the state to acquire the Preakness, Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, either in a bankruptcy auction or by eminent domain.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the House of Delegates continued to press aides to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who introduced the emergency legislation this week, on the viability of the proposal.

The governor and Democratic leaders in Annapolis say the state needs broad condemnation powers to ensure that the historic second jewel of the Triple Crown continues running at Pimlico. The track's owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., wants to sell its Maryland assets under federal bankruptcy proceedings.

State officials are contemplating acquiring Magna's assets, which include Laurel and a training track in Bowie, then selling them to a private entity that would commit to preserving Maryland's thoroughbred horse racing legacy, especially the Preakness.

Del. Brian J. Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat, questioned whether the financing scheme envisioned in the bill is viable in light of tight credit markets. Under the legislation, money for the Preakness and any other Magna assets would be raised by selling revenue bonds issued by the Maryland Economic Development Corp.

Robert C. Brennan, the public corporation's executive director, acknowledged that raising millions of dollars during a recession for long-troubled horse racing assets "could be very difficult. ... Hopefully, there would be investors interested."

The state's claim to the race or tracks could also be voided by the federal court overseeing the bankruptcy. Despite concerns about the measure, it appears headed for speedy passage in both chambers - underscoring the political and cultural potency of the Preakness for Maryland politicians.

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