farm for sale
Hundreds Pack Racing Commission Meeting
Penn National Gaming Forced Out
Future is Uncertain

At least 300 people packed the Ruffian Room at Laurel Park today in opposition to plans by the co-owners of the Maryland Jockey Club to decimate horse racing. The performance by MID and Penn National's representatives was abysmal.

The Racing Commission had approved the 49% buy-in by Penn National conditionally in June. The condition was that by September (and then extended to today) the new partnership of MID and Penn National were to present a business plan for MD racing and have it approved by the Commission.

The "Business Plan" presented today was simply a proposal to run a 30-day meet at Pimlico in the spring and a 17-day meet in January at Laurel. Speakers from Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, Maryland Horse Breeders, Maryland Horse Council, and many others argued that this calendar would effectively kill the industry while allowing the track owners to make money running the Preakness. Everyone urged the Commission to reject the '"plan" in spite of the fact that it would leave racing in a very precarious position.

Virtually all of the Commission members berated Penn National and MID for failure to provide a viable plan. They expressed outrage that two out of state companies that promised in June to provide the capital to invest in Maryland racing even without a casino at Laurel, were now unwilling to follow through on that commitment.

The vote by the Commission was unanimous. The MID / Penn National partnership was rejected, along with the plan that the two companies had presented.

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What Next?

MID and its CEO, Frank Stronach, have some decisions to make. Can they operate on their own without Penn National's money?

Will Stronach stand by his statement that it makes no sense to cut Maryland racing when slots revenue is forthcoming?

Will the MID stockholders demand that Stronach consider offers from the local partnerships that have expressed interest in buying the tracks?

MID now understands that Maryland is not going to allow him or anyone else to use the Preakness as a cash cow while killing the jobs, the farms, and the history that racing supports. The company will either play by our rules or sell.

Can Stronach bulldoze the tracks and develop the land, as his company has suggested to its stockholders?

That's where politics and organizing come in.

Governor O'Malley is well aware that the state passed a bill two years ago giving him the power to force a sale of the tracks in a situation such as this. Our Maryland Horse Council survey of horse people showed that 92% of our 314 respondents would support his use of this drastic measure if necessary. Nobody likes the idea of the state seizing private property, and the process of determining fair market value is subject to a lot of court action that would cost MID stockholders and cost the state.

Still, O'Malley can step in and facilitate a transfer of ownership with eminent domain law as a stick, and money to MID stockholders as a carrot. The tough stand by the Racing Commission makes doing business in Maryland less appealing to MID. Some say that MID hopes to convince the MD General Assembly to change the slots funding formula to allow them to receive an operating subsidy. Others say that MID is no more popular in the legislature right now than they are with the Racing Commission, so any bill that they propose is likely to be shot down.

We at the Maryland Horse Council know one thing for certain. The horse industry must not only stick together to save this industry, but we must also build alliances with our friends in the agricultural community, open space advocates, and the people who care about jobs and social justice. The upcoming legislative session will see efforts by some to take away racing's cut of slots money. That is the real threat that we face.

If you want to be a part of this struggle to keep horse racing alive in Maryland, click on the Join Now button at left and become a Horse Council member. We can claim to represent all 40,000 horse folks in this state, but without your dues we can't get the job done.

Thanks for staying informed, and please forward this email to anyone who cares.

Steuart Pittman
President, Maryland Horse Council


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