Arundel exec seeks to keep aid if Laurel stops races

Leopold seeks to clarify law that delivers about $1.5 million each year

November 08, 2010|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold has asked the state comptroller to ensure that the county continues to receive about $1.5 million in annual funding from Laurel Park race course if the facility's owners stop holding live races.

In the letter sent Monday to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, Leopold cites state law requiring the comptroller to pay the county, in funds from the track's owner, for each day of live racing and "intertrack betting" at the track, up to the maximum of 140 days annually. The funding is dispersed to the county in half-yearly installments and is used for improvements in communities within 3 miles of the track.

The letter seeks to clarify whether the county would continue to receive the aid if Laurel held only intertrack betting, in which customers wager on races at other tracks.

Joseph Shapiro, a spokesman for the comptroller, said Franchot had not yet received the letter, but would review the issue and reply to Leopold.

"It is extremely important that these fees set forth in the Business Regulation Article are collected and remitted to Anne Arundel County," Leopold said in a statement. "My letter to Mr. Franchot seeks to confirm this agreement and ensure to our citizens living in the Laurel area that these funds will be paid to the county and be put to good use. In the event that there are any questions about these continued payments, I will work to have legislation introduced to confirm these funds."

Laurel and its owners have sent different messages about racing at the track. On Monday, Canadian businessman Frank Stronach, whose MI Developments controls Laurel and Pimlico Race Course through its stake in the Maryland Jockey Club, said he hopes to strike a deal with breeders and state officials to save the historic tracks.

Following the passage last week of ballot referendum Question A, which gives Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. the zoning approval to build a billion-dollar slots and entertainment complex on the grounds of Arundel Mills mall, Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas said he will move forward with plans to cease live racing at Laurel Park, turning the facility into an off-track betting site. The Jockey Club funded the opposition to the referendum, in hopes of steering slots to the track.

Chuckas said the Jockey Club's other facilities would also be affected. Pimlico would operate about 40 days a year around the Preakness, and a training facility in Bowie would close. Chuckas has said he will ask the Maryland Racing Commission for approval of his plans at a meeting this month.

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