Senate committee moves twilight racing bill forward


The Senate Finance Committee voted 9-2 yesterday to recommend passage of a bill that allows the state's thoroughbred tracks to experiment with twilight racing for one year.

The bill permits Pimlico and Laurel to end their race cards by 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, when there is no harness racing, and by 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

Originally the harness industry had opposed the bill, since nighttime racing is traditionally allocated to the trotters. But the bill was amended to absolve any conflicts.

"It's a very timid step, not at all radical," said Sen. Tom O'Reilly (D-Prince George's), the committee's chairman. The bill must now pass the House Ways and Means Committee before it is voted on by the full General Assembly.

Joe De Francis, track owner of Laurel and Pimlico, said yesterday that twilight racing had helped increase business at such tracks as Churchill Downs by 20 percent. "And that's significant," De Francis said.

The Senate Finance Committee voted down by 6-5 a measure that would have allowed an inter-track betting facility and horse sales pavilion built at Fair Hill, the Cecil County steeplechase track that runs only three times a year.

"If you're going to do that for Fair Hill, then you also have to do it for another track like Marlboro [Prince George's County Equestrian Center] that also only races a couple of days a year," O'Reilly said.

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