The headlong move into a new era of wagering on electronic races at multiple Maryland inter-track sites has overcome it's last obstacle.
Track employees voted yesterday by a 90-vote margin to accept revisions to their current contract that will allow for a more efficient expansion by the state's thoroughbred tracks into the simulcast era.
The move allows mutuel clerks, who are members of Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, to take unlimited bets on full-card simulcasts from out-of-state tracks at a wage base that management said it can afford and on terms track officials requested.
During afternoon cards at thoroughbred tracks, 60 percent of the windows will be set aside for the live card. The other 40 percent of the windows will be used to take bets on out-of-state simulcasts. Full cards of televised races from New York and California tracks are expected to offered year-round as well as seasonal cards from other sites like Monmouth Park in New Jersey, Churchill Downs in Kentucky or Arlington Park in Illinois.
Had the contract modifications not been accepted, separate windows would have been needed for each simulcast card as well as live races.
Previously employees were paid 11.2 percent above their base pay for every race they worked above nine. But now since so many races will be offered, management contended that that kind of salary was no longer feasible. Under the revisions, clerks will receive a 9.4 percent premium for every half-hour they work beyond shifts of 4-1/4 hours on weekdays and 5-1/4 hours on weekends.
"It was the best offer we could negotiate and was carefully considered," said union president Thomas Russow. Negotiations, often thorny at times, took six months to complete.
When the contract was first put to a vote two weeks ago, the ballotting was declared invalid after a number of challenges were mounted concerning voting procedures.
But yesterday, at a recount taken at Pimlico and Laurel race courses, 469 votes were cast by employees in private voting booths. Their names were registered and checked off by union officials. Seven votes were challenged and were consequently not counted. Of the 462 votes that were allowed, the vote was 276 to 186 to accept the revisions.
Pimlico/Laurel senior vice president and general manager Jim Mango said the simulcast expansion will be introduced in three steps.
By the end of this week, an inter-track arrangement could start with Rosecroft Raceway. The thoroughbred races will be simulcast at Rosecroft in the afternoon and the harness races televised at Pimlico/Laurel at night.
The tracks are still waiting for the Maryland Racing Commission to license Pimlico as a nighttime harness outlet, but that approval is expected to be granted by the panel this week.
The second step will be opening the state's first off-track betting parlor at the Cracked Claw restaurant near Frederick once the facility is licensed by the commission.
The third step will be the introduction of the full-card simulcasts from out-of-state tracks.
Mango said that he hopes all three phases of the operation will be up and running by Kentucky Derby week.
Mango added that Pimlico/Laurel "is the first major year-round track to mix multiple signals with live racing. It's a whole new game. Hopefully we will be able to reverse the downward business trends of the last couple years."
Pimlico/Laurel management also plans to introduce 350 automated teller machines at the tracks as well as at Rosecroft Raceway and to also introduce $1 bets. Both items are already available at other East Coast racing plants.
NOTES: Forry Cow How came from the off the pace and out-fought Ameri Valay in the stretch yesterday to win the $100,000 Jennings Handicap by a head. . . Actor Sam Shepard was at Pimlico to see his filly, Lila Wanblee, finish second in the third race. Shepard said "I'm not giving interviews". . . Bounding Daisy finished third in the Cahill Road Stakes at Aqueduct and Montbrook was fourth in the Best Turn Stakes at the same track. Both horses are locally based 3-year-olds.