Although various players in the state's thoroughbred racing industry may disagree on how to sustain the sport, Gov. Martin O'Malley's office said Monday that everyone agreed on one thing: keeping the Preakness Stakes in Maryland.
O'Malley's chief legislative officer, Joseph Bryce, and Maryland Labor Secretary Alexander Sanchez hosted a meeting Monday to try and broker an agreement that would salvage live racing next year and ensure the future of the Preakness, the second jewel of racing's Triple Crown.
They met with representatives of the tracks' majority owner, MI Developments, minority owner Penn National Gaming, and groups representing horsemen and breeders.
After the closed-door, three-hour meeting at the State House, Bryce said the Preakness is "safe," though details are still being worked out for a deal regarding a 2011 schedule for thoroughbred racing. Bryce said several options were discussed, but he declined to say what they would be.
The parties are expected to meet again within the next week with a goal of having a viable plan before the Maryland Racing Commission's meeting later this month, Bryce said. The Preakness is prized because of its tradition and because it has an estimated $40 million impact, making it one of the largest annual events in the state.
"The Preakness and the need to sustain Maryland racing, everyone agrees on that," he said. "We need to work through the details on how to create a sustainable industry. The track owners have no interest in not running the Preakness."
Maryland's thoroughbred racing industry has been in limbo since the state racing commission last week rejected a plan to significantly cut the Maryland Jockey Club's racing schedule to 47 days next year, or about one-third of this year's schedule. The Jockey Club operates the state's two major thoroughbred tracks: Laurel Park and Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course.
Canadian real estate company MI Developments and Pennsylvania casino operator Penn National, which own and operate the Jockey Club through a joint venture, have described the truncated schedule as a "stopgap" measure while they work with the industry to devise a long-term plan for their racing operations.
But that plan was not sufficient for the commission, horse owners, trainers and breeders, who argued that the shortened schedule would effectively kill the state's racing industry.
Steven T. Snyder, Penn National's senior vice president of corporate development, called Monday's discussions "productive," though he also declined to provide details.
"We're looking to make a viable industry and make a solid foundation for the industry," Snyder said.
Representatives of MI Developments, including Don Cameron, chief operating officer, and Mike Rogers, vice president of racing and gaming operations, declined to comment after the meeting.
Officials with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association could not be reached for comment.
Some in the horse racing industry have called for new ownership of Laurel Park and Pimlico, and some have said the state should consider seizing the tracks and the Preakness under its eminent domain authority. Others have suggested redirecting some of the state's slot-machine revenue to the Jockey Club.
But O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said on Monday that eminent domain is not an option the state would consider at this time. And when asked whether the state would consider redirecting slots revenue to help track operators, Bryce said the state would not want to make "wholesale" changes to that pot of money.
Meanwhile, the state — and the horse racing industry — is starting to see revenue from slots. A portion of the slots revenue has been earmarked to augment race purses for winning horses and goes to capital improvements at the state's tracks.
On Monday, the Maryland Lottery reported that Hollywood Casino Perryville generated $7.6 million in revenue, or $168.64 daily per machine, in November. That casino is the first of several casinos slated to open in Maryland.
After a strong start, the slots parlor's revenue last month fell off from $11.4 million, or $245 daily per machine, in October, its first full month of operation.
So far, the Perryville casino, owned by Penn National, has generated $1.4 million for purses and about $526,000 for the track improvement fund since it opened in late September.
The Cecil County casino, with 1,500 machines, had generated higher-than-expected revenue. But casino officials had cautioned that higher revenue in the initial weeks of operation, fueled by the excitement surrounding the opening, would level off. The fourth quarter is generally a slow period in the industry.
In total, the casino has generated $21 million in gross revenue since its Sept. 27 opening. The facility averaged $215.99 daily per machine during that period.