"Bruce is the most forceful chairman we've had in many years," Foreman says.

The 10-year pact, reached late in 2012, guaranteed a minimum of 100 racing dates a year and obligated the horsemen to subsidize the tracks to the tune of $70 million to $100 million over that span. It also contained promises of new barn construction at Laurel and Pimlico, essential for owners who train at the facilities.

No longer would brinkmanship and threats of imminent demise rule the end of each year. "It gave credibility and stability to the industry," Chuckas says.

With the deal in place, the racing commission moved on to other matters, such as bringing Maryland in line with unified drug testing standards for the Mid-Atlantic and greatly increasing the bonuses for Maryland breeders and owners whose horses win, place or show (finish first, second or third) on the state's tracks.

The flood of reforms, combined with the new stream of slots cash, lifted spirits in each faction of the industry.

Competing with casinos

The next great hope centers on physical improvements to the tracks. Talk to racing lovers from other states, and Pimlico's dilapidated condition invariably comes up.

"The facilities are just not places people want to go," Foreman says.

Maryland stakeholders remain wary of Frank Stronach, chairman of the Jockey Club's parent company, because he has promised bold improvements for years without following through. But Chuckas says he believes his boss, Stronach, still plans to modernize the tracks.

"I've had multiple meetings with him on this issue," says the Stronach Group's top representative in Maryland. "I think the commitment is there."

Quade says he has no reason to doubt those intentions.

The state's slots deal includes matching funds that could exceed $100 million over the next 15 years to help the Jockey Club with capital projects. But analysts say Stronach would likely have to secure hefty bank loans to pay for any significant construction, no easy task with the industry's revenue streams still uncertain.

"There's a real money issue on the racetrack side," Capps says. "If I were in Stronach's shoes, I'd be hard-pressed to do much more than maintenance. I can't borrow $20 million just to get $20 million in matching funds. So I don't think you're going to see a plan to tear down Pimlico. It's going to be more modest stuff."

The first planned project is for new barns at Laurel Park, and industry officials will watch carefully to see if construction begins as anticipated this summer.

Chuckas says his dream vision for the tracks would include upscale restaurants, sports bars and updated technological trimmings to woo the younger fan. Stadiums have those amenities, as do the casinos, which act as double-edged swords for the racetracks, because they provide revenue while creating competition for the attention of gamblers.

"It's a very difficult task, because the casinos deliver a multi-faceted experience," Chuckas says. "Our facilities are old and dated. They have to become modern."

He takes solace from his experience updating the Preakness Day experience. Chuckas took wide criticism in 2009, when attendance at the state's signature event plummeted to a 25-year low, in part because of a new policy prohibiting fans from bringing their own alcohol.

But he was intent on refashioning the Preakness by adding high-end musical acts to the infield and moderating the drink-til-you-drop atmosphere. Attendance in 2013 was back up to 117,203, fourth highest in history. And this year's event promises performances from Grammy winner Lorde and rapper Nas in addition to the race, featuring Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome.

Given the Preakness success, Chuckas and others envision a series of smaller events combining racing and entertainment that could bolster annual attendance at the tracks. Though much of the wagering now occurs online, they haven't given up on attracting a new generation to the actual races.

"Maybe you have a son of Preakness and a son of son of Preakness at other times of the year," Quade says. "We can't use the old model and say, 'We'll have racing Monday through Friday, see you there.' But I don't think it's hopeless."