Even as he holds firm against slot machines sought by Maryland racing, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that the state should consider using public funds to help build a state-of-the-art horse track.
Saying he had been "brainstorming" with horse owners, Glendening said he could support a "public-private partnership" that would build a new track to invigorate the state's struggling racing industry.
The governor made clear that the idea would need further study, and he offered almost no specifics. But he mentioned the possibility of building a track with a 1920s motif and modern technology -- something akin to the mix of old and new at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The key questions are "how much does it cost and how do we make it work," Glendening said in a meeting with editorial writers and a reporter for The Sun.
The governor's statements come amid polls that show little public support for a state subsidy to the racing industry, as well as lingering discontent among voters over the $270 million Maryland spent in the past two years on football stadiums in Baltimore and Prince George's County.
The idea of a state investment in a horse track drew negative reviews from a key legislator, as well as the principal owner of the two main thoroughbred tracks in Maryland.
But the governor said it was important to find ways to help the racing industry without resorting to slot machines, which he has ruled out.
Glendening said the state could consider a variety of financial assistance, including loans and grants.
He added that as part of any such investment, the state would take control of the Preakness Stakes, the Maryland racing industry's most lucrative asset.
On other issues:
Glendening said that today he would announce a wide-ranging crime-prevention agenda for a second term in office. It reportedly would include expanding the state's drug-treatment effort, tripling the size of the "Hot Spots" program in crime-ridden communities and putting probation officers in some public housing complexes.
The governor said he would again seek General Assembly approval of a new scholarship program that would offer free tuition at state colleges for all students maintaining B averages. The Assembly this year approved such a program only for students studying science and technology.
Glendening said he would announce a mass transit initiative that would include a new computerized pass card that riders could use on any public transportation system in the state.
On the racing issue, the governor said discussion of how to rejuvenate the Maryland industry would grow more serious if he wins re-election this fall.
Glendening's main Democratic opponent for the party's nomination, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, supports legalizing slots at the state's race tracks. And the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, has said she would consider slots to help the Maryland industry compete with tracks in Delaware and West Virginia, where the machines are legal.
"I think when we win and [the slot machine] issue is off the table, people will say, 'What are our options?' " Glendening said.
But any proposal to invest state funds in a racetrack would face significant opposition in the General Assembly, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, an advocate of bringing slots to Maryland tracks.
Public support questioned
"I don't believe that there is a body of public opinion that would support the expenditure of public funds for the type of capital improvements that are needed," said Miller, a Prince George's Democrat.
It would be preferable, Miller said, to use money from slot machines for such a project. "If you're going to be putting revenues back into the racing facilities, it should come from people who choose to bet, rather than hard-working taxpayers," he said.
A recent poll for The Sun and other news organizations found that a substantial majority of Maryland voters don't approve of the state's financing of the new football stadiums. The poll also found that 61 percent of those asked said they would oppose the state providing financial assistance to the racing industry.
Track owner skeptical
Joseph A. DeFrancis, the principal owner of Laurel and Pimlico race courses, said he would be willing to discuss a financial partnership with state officials, but said he was skeptical the idea could win General Assembly approval.
A new racetrack would cost about $120 million, De Francis said.
And while DeFrancis said he could not address the governor's comments in detail, he said it was unlikely that he or his partners would want to turn over control of the Preakness Stakes.
"Art Modell didn't turn the ownership of the Ravens over to the state in return for the stadium," DeFrancis said of the football team owner.
Glendening and the legislature have approved the spending of $18 million in state grants to the racing industry over the last two years. Much of the money has been used to increase race purses to help keep them competitive with surrounding states.
Pub Date: 7/30/98