Slots crucial for Anne Arundel, horse racing industry

December 13, 2009

The Sun editorial in support of the slots zoning change legislation my administration has co-sponsored is both timely and helpful; we have been working hard behind the scenes to secure County Council approval of the Cordish Cos. proposal ("Arundel's moment," Dec. 9).

The consequences of the council vote on this legislation cannot be overstated. About $355 million in annual revenue for the state to spend on education and much-needed direct support for Maryland's horse industry is on the line. Anne Arundel County's fiscal welfare and our ability to preserve and enhance our quality of life lie in the balance.

Now that the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission has awarded the Anne Arundel County site to Arundel Mills, it is unfortunate that citizens have been subjected to a last-minute flurry of misinformation regarding the fiscal implications of this decision to the horse racing industry.

Both history and the facts are inconsistent with the argument that a video lottery facility at Laurel racetrack would provide more financial benefits to this industry and its employees than a location at Arundel Mills. Likewise, the contention that voters assumed the constitutional amendment that was approved by almost 60 percent of Maryland voters was intended to ensure that Laurel would be one of the slots locations is not supported by the plain language of the proposition that was before the electorate.

The Maryland General Assembly set aside 9.5 percent of the state's share of slots revenue, up to $140 million annually, to be provided to the horse racing industry. In order to maximize this revenue, state legislators did not mandate that slots be located at racetracks and instead identified geographic areas where bids could be submitted.

In providing for slots locations, the legislature clearly did not believe slots must be located at racetracks in order to save the horse racing industry.

The fiscal consultants retained by the slots licensing commission made it clear that the Arundel Mills location would generate the maximum revenue for the state and was perhaps the most lucrative slots site in the nation. Thus, the Arundel Mills site will provide the greatest share of that revenue to the horse industry for use in increasing race purses, providing funds for horse breeders and making capital improvements to racetracks.

The owners of Laurel Park had the opportunity to submit a bid to locate slots at their facility. Unfortunately, the owners did not comply with state law and were disqualified by the slots commission, a decision upheld by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The ownership subsequently filed for bankruptcy, and the racetrack is now part of that federal bankruptcy proceeding.

Anne Arundel County is home to many recreational horse riders as well as professional breeders, trainers and Laurel racetrack employees. The decision of the slots commission should provide the maximum revenue to continue the tradition of a vibrant horse industry.John R. Leopold, Annapolis

The writer is Anne Arundel County executive.

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