Commission recommends continued help for industry; $35M in grants considered, but commitment uncertain


A state study commission agreed yesterday to recommend that legislators continue helping the Maryland horse racing industry through trying, competitive times. But the commission did not reveal how much assistance it would recommend.

That will be decided during private deliberations among commissioners in the next two or three weeks, said Stuart S. Janney III, who heads the commission on the horse racing industry.

Based on recommendations of the commission last year, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed a subsidy package that included $8 million for thoroughbred and standardbred purses and $1.5 million for marketing.

Yesterday, three prominent representatives of thoroughbred horsemen and breeders unveiled an "economic development model for the future of Maryland racing" that included state grants this year of $35 million -- $20 million for purses and breeders' funds, $9 million for off-track betting facilities in Baltimore, Baltimore County, Montgomery County and perhaps Hagerstown, and $6 million for marketing and promotion.

Offered by Tim Capps, Alan Foreman and Wayne Wright, the plan called for decreasing subsidies ending in 2002 once the industry has grown and prospered.

"Thirty-five million dollars, that's a real stretch," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a member of the commission. "That's going to be a real hard sell here in the legislature."

He said even getting $10 million might be difficult, especially since the Glendening budget did not include money for horse racing. That means any assistance would have to come in a supplementary budget, which is often harder to navigate through the General Assembly.

But Bromwell, Sen. Walter M. Baker and others on the commission said the state needed to help the industry keep pace with the Delaware Park thoroughbred track, which is richly subsidized by slot machines, and other successful tracks across the country.

The most efficient way of doing that would be simply to allow slots at tracks in Maryland, said Del. Clarence Davis, a commission member. Slots proceeds could bolster horse racing as well as help fund schools, he said.

"With slots, everybody does well," Davis said.

Joe De Francis, majority owner of Pimlico and Laurel Park, agreed wholeheartedly, saying that Maryland horse racing needed infusions of money to transform its aging tracks into "first-class facilities," boost purses and increase advertising.

"The reason I keep beating the drum for slots is that slots are the only mechanism I'm aware of that will provide the additional revenue to allow Maryland racing truly to compete successfully," he said. "The slots issue is one way to solve our own problems and turn back millions of dollars to the state every year."

But Baker, the senator, countered that slot machines are no way to fund government and that they would greatly increase the incidence of problem gambling. Even John Franzone, a commission member as well as chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, said that slot machines should not be installed at racetracks.

The commission indicated that it would endorse telephone-account wagering, which would allow Marylanders to bet on horse racing on home television sets. It also promised to discuss at a future meeting the long-shot prospect of building a new racetrack in the state.

Pub Date: 1/12/99

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