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House approves subsidy for Ocean Downs

Maryland's House of Delegates narrowly approved a bill Saturday that would provide $1.2 million to the owner of a racetrack and casino on the Eastern Shore, setting aside objections from some lawmakers who called it a giveaway to the "one percent."

The bill would divert revenue earmarked for enhancing racing purses to provide operating assistance for the Ocean Downs Race Track, so long as the track has 40 live racing days. It is owned by William Rickman, a politically connected developer.

Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County would qualify for money only if it rehired about 300 workers who have been let go — a prospect lawmakers said was unlikely.

"What we are going to do is give the operator of a racetrack $1.2 million at a time when we are raising taxes," said Del. Luiz Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat. "Let's remember that the owner of the racetrack is also the owner of a casino."

The measure still needs final approval by the state Senate — which previously passed a similar bill — and Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature.

In the House on Saturday, Del. Frank Turner, a Howard County Democrat who sponsored a version of the bill, argued that Ocean Downs needs state help. "The racetrack is losing money," he said.

Turner also said the casino wasn't doing well. "During these winter months, nobody is going to the casino," he said.

According to state figures, the Casino at Ocean Downs took in $35 million during the first nine months of the fiscal year, with $11.6 million of that going to the casino.

Ocean Downs has one of two Maryland casinos currently operating. The casino opened its doors in January 2011 with 800 slot machines. There is live horse racing at the adjacent racetrack.

The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sen. Rob Garagiola, a Montgomery County Democrat.

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