MARYLAND RACING – R.I.P.?

By Frank Petramalo, Executive Director, Virginia H.B.P.A.

Frank Stronach

I attended yesterday’s Maryland Racing Commission meeting at Laurel. The Commission rejected the MJC/PNG revised request to race 146 days in 2011 (the same schedule as this year) because of the conditions imposed by MJC/PNG. MJC/PNG in effect wanted a guarantee they would not lose money by running 146 days. This year they lost about $5 million doing so.

The Maryland horsemen and the breeders opposed the request because of the conditions. They urged the Commission to recommend to the Governor that he exercise “eminent domain” to oust the current ownership duo and take over the tracks . A majority of the Commission appeared to support that idea.

Here’s the short version of what happened:  The horsemen are flexible. They offered to contribute $1.7 million toward operating expenses and were willing to lobby for legislative changes MJC/PNG wanted like diverting slots racetrack improvement money to operating expenses and closing Bowie.

The MJC crew is completely unfocused but is sympathetic to year round racing. However, Frank Stronach refuses to be specific about anything other than to say he wants “everybody to work together.” The PNG folks (Peter Carlino, et al) are hard ballers who refuse to lose one dollar racing, even in the short term. (Despite a 51/49 ownership split favoring MJC each side has veto power over any racing agreement.)

I don’t know what the next step is. The Commission asked the parties to continue talking but I think that’s unlikely to result in any agreement. The bargaining relationship seems dysfunctional, to put it mildly. As it now stands come January 1st there will be no racing or simulcasting in Maryland.