Maryland racetracks owner pledges to develop capital plan required for getting state subsidies

The Maryland Racing Commission meets Thursday at Laurel Park, where the owner of Pimlico and Laurel racetracks pledged to submit a required capital plan for renovations.

The Maryland Jockey Club said Thursday it would devise and submit a capital construction plan to detail racetrack renovations that have already received public subsidies even though horse racing regulators never approved a spending blueprint as required by state regulations.

The Maryland Racing Commission asked the jockey club for the retroactive submission after The Baltimore Sun notified state officials that regulations require the commission to approve a capital construction plan before it can award grants from a slots-funded account reserved for racetrack renovations.


The commission had been scheduled at its Thursday meeting to approve a $4.4 million reimbursement to the jockey club for Laurel Park renovations in 2018, but removed the item after The Sun informed the nine-member volunteer panel that under state regulations, the company can qualify for grants only after the commission receives and approves a capital construction plan.

The commission removed the reimbursement from the agenda at the request of the panel’s attorney “until a new capital construction plan is approved,” said Michael L. Harrison, a spokesman for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which houses the racing commission.


Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for The Stronach Group, the jockey club’s parent company, appeared before the commission at Laurel Park to say that a plan for this year and last year would be presented at the board’s July meeting.

“We are working on that new plan,” Ritvo told the commission.

But, he added, the plan may not include specific projects for Pimlico, as the company and Baltimore officials are still negotiating how to fund costly renovations required to keep the 149-year-old facility safe to host the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

“We won’t be able to submit a comprehensive capital plan for the thoroughbred racing facilities until negotiations have concluded,” Ritvo said. “We hope that you will be patient with us on that.”

An investigation by The Sun found that the racing commission has ignored state law while awarding nearly $22 million in public subsidies for racetrack upgrades to Stronach, the private company that owns both Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.

Records show the company submitted a plan for renovations at the two tracks during 2013-2017, but the commission never approved that plan — and Stronach did not follow through with significant renovations that it detailed for Pimlico. Commission and state officials said all grants awarded from the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account were certified by an accountant as qualified capital expenses, though they were not necessarily part of the plan.

The commission has acknowledged that a plan was never submitted or approved for 2018 and this year.

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Commission chairman Michael Algeo contended at Thursday’s meeting that he and his fellow commissioners have always followed state law.


“Everything this commission has done we have done completely in compliance with Maryland regulations,” Algeo said.

Del. Nick Mosby, a Baltimore Democrat who spoke to the commission Thursday, said he hoped the panel would keep close watch on how its allocates money from the racetrack renovations account.

From when grants were first awarded in 2015 through the jockey club’s plan that ended in 2017, the commission awarded $14.2 million, or 91 percent, of grants to Laurel Park and $1.4 million, or 9 percent to Pimlico. The grants represent half of what the jockey club spent to improve both racetracks.

“It’s important to look at how the money is allocated going forward,” Mosby said.

Ritvo said the jockey club knew shortly after it submitted its 2013 spending plan that carrying out renovations at Pimlico were not feasible because of the track’s dilapidated conditions.

“We knew shortly after the submission of the 2013 plan that minor renovations were impractical,” Ritvo told the commission. “We couldn’t do minor renovations without incurring significant costs with bringing the building up to code with fire and safety and health.”