Off-track betting bill will go to legislators


LAUREL -- A bill that would allow off-track betting on Maryland horse races is expected to be introduced in the State Senate either today or tomorrow, said Dennis McCoy, the lobbyist representing the Maryland Horse Coalition.

Senate president Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, D-Prince George's, is sponsoring the bill.

McCoy said some last-minute minor amendments were added to accommodate a group of harness horsemen and breeders who wanted clarifications on certain provisions.

"This wasn't an organized group, but about 20 individuals from around the state who expressed some concerns," McCoy said.

The coalition was organized to present a unified voice in Annapolis for both the thoroughbred and standardbred industries. The original bill had the support of virtually all the track associations and horsemen's organizations.

However, the coalition agreed to these changes proposed by the group of unorganized harness horsemen:

* The original bill stated that, if an OTB center is built within 25 miles of an existing track, approval must be given by the existing track. An amendment was made that said consent must now also be given by horsemen and horse breeders whose animals race at the existing track.

* The original bill said that breeders, horsemen and the tracks will share in the cost of operating an OTB facility. Under amendment, the state racing commission, which will oversee the OTB licensees, must define exactly what that cost of operation will entail.

* The racing commission must make an annual report on the impact of OTB on live racing.

* The harness horsemen wanted legislation to specify the number of live races that would be run annually and the specific number of races run each day.

"That wasn't feasible, because there are closures due to weather or certain races that don't fill," McCoy said, so the harness horsemen agreed that a private contract should be made each year between themselves and the harness tracks. Such an arrangement already exists between thoroughbred horsemen and tracks.

McCoy said he is optimistic about passage of the OTB bill.

"People are sensitive to changes that have taken place in the world," he said. "The standardbred industry, for example, is in real trouble, with attendance and handle off as much as 30 percent. There are also declines at the thoroughbred tracks. There is a lot of competition for the recreation dollar. The horse racing industry has got to make it more convenient for the customers to bet on races. That's where OTB helps."

McCoy said he expects the Senate to hold a hearing on the bill either Feb. 5 or 6.

* Laurel recorded its lowest daily betting handle yesterday in nearly four years and the lowest since inter-track wagering was introduced in 1989.

Only $980,464 was wagered on the nine-race program. The previous time Laurel failed to break $1 million on a full card was Nov. 6, 1989, when $998,016 was bet on 10 races. Laurel also failed to break $1 million on Feb. 29, 1988, when $966,060 was bet, but that was before inter-track wagering was introduced.

NOTES: Laurel expects to introduce Pick Seven wagering on Feb. 6 when the Pimlico-at-Laurel meeting formally begins. . . . Apprentice Charlie Fenwick won two races at Laurel yesterday, including the feature on Hyland Beach. . . . Trainer Jerry Robb shipped Rainbow Prospect to Garden State Park on Monday. The horse won the Minister Stakes by four lengths and became the fifth stakes winner for his sire, Allen's Prospect. . . . When Whiz Taylor finished second in the sixth race yesterday, it was her second straight runner-up finish since her owner, Robert Summers, died Dec. 26 while fox hunting with the Marlborough Hounds in Upper Marlboro. He was 52. Summers, according to his brother, Hill, slumped over on his horse during the hunt and slipped to the ground. He died of an apparent heart attack, but the coroner's office ruled his death was accidental. Summers owned seven thoroughbreds in partnership with his brother and his trainer, Hamilton Smith. Party Woman, Summers' other horse that is currently running, won at Laurel last week.

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