Riverboat gambling bills draw horsemen's scorn


LAUREL -- Representatives of racetrack owners and horsemen will be in Annapolis tomorrow to oppose cruise ship and riverboat gambling bills that have been introduced in the House of Delegates by Del. Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery.

One bill would permit gambling in Maryland waters, specifically on large cruise ships that now bypass the Baltimore harbor because gambling is not allowed.

The other Hixson bill would permit riverboat gambling on any navigable Maryland stream under designated conditions. A Maryland Riverboat Board would be established to oversee the operation.

Hixson said her bills are patterned after similar legislation in Illinois, which has riverboat gambling on the Mississippi River and at horse tracks. "Both bring in big bucks," she said.

Hixson said she thinks cruise ship and riverboat gambling would "attract a different crowd" from the one that frequents the track.

"I think we'd see a lot of out-of-state money, certainly on the cruise ships, and the riverboat gambling would draw from Washington, Pennsylvania and Delaware," she said.

Joe De Francis, operator of Laurel and Pimlico race courses, said he is treating the Hixson legislation as "a very serious matter."

"Whether or not the probability of the bills' passing is real or not, if they did pass and became operational, it would be disastrous to the state's racing industry," he said.

Alan Foreman, who represents the bulk of both thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen in Maryland, said: "The state has a big investment in racing. It seems ludicrous that the state would legalize a competitor that would be so clearly detrimental. For every $1 bet on a riverboat, you're siphoning off $2 bet in racing that helps horsemen in the form of purses and breeders in the form of incentive awards."

A hearing on the two bills is scheduled before the House Judiciary Committee at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

NOTES: The Senate Finance Committee could vote on proposed OTB legislation as early as Friday, either killing it or sending it to the full Senate. Committee members are mulling what amendments will be tacked onto the bill. . . . Clarence "Jo Jo" Ladner is expected to resume riding by Saturday. He is recovering from chickenpox. . . . Wood So, ridden by Mario Pino, worked six furlongs in 1 minute, 15 2/5 seconds yesterday in preparation for the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap on Saturday. Such aces as Florida-based Withallprobablity (Wayne Lukas stable), California-based Laramie Moon (Neil Drysdale stable) and Maryland-based Devilish Touch (Carlos Garcia stable) are skipping the race. That leaves Wide Country, at 120 pounds, and Wood So, at 113, the probable starting high weights. Bob Camac, trainer of Wide Country, is undecided about starting his filly.

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