With newly elected Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly working to wipe out spending deficits with this year’s budget, the Maryland horse racing industry has come under the eye of the Department of Legislative Services.
The DLS, which is trying to find ways to cut spending in some areas in order to help the General Assembly restore funding in others, has proposed a 10 percent cut to the Purse Dedication Account and the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account (RFRA) as part of the state’s Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA) of 2015.
After much hard work by the MTHA, the Maryland Jockey Club and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, the House Appropriations Committee, in consultation with the House Ways and Means Committee as well as the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee, rejected the proposed cuts and thereby maintained the current levels of funding for the industry.
Although the Hogan administration also indicated opposition to the DLS plan, the battle isn’t over. The MTHA’s longtime lobbyist, D. Robert Enten, explained that although unlikely, the cuts could reappear during a conference committee, composed of members of the House and the Senate,when they “iron out the differences in the BRFA.”
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Is it time for a revival of the OTB, the off-track betting facilities that were popular 20 years ago?
The Maryland Jockey Club in partnership with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association is betting on it.
Recently, they sent an application to the Maryland Racing Commission for an OTB site at the new Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, in hopes of receiving approval at the MRC’s April meeting.
The partnership will have 1,595 square feet near the bar and right next to the food court at the Horseshoe, and plans to have the OTB open in time for The Preakness.
“It’s a good partnership among the three of us,” Maryland Jockey Club vice president and general manager Sal Sinatra said. “And it’s good for the casino, in that it is a game they don’t have and we will be doing our Preakness party and other promotional events there. With the Triple Crown coming, it’s a good time to get the OTB operating.”
OTBs, popular in the mid-1990s, have nearly disappeared as online betting and casinos in neighboring states, and now Maryland, undermined their popularity. These days there is just one, The Riverboat on the Potomac, which is technically in Maryland, but located in Colonial Beach, Va.
But MTHA president Tim Keefe said he is “very pleased” the MJC, under the leadership of Sinatra and Stronach Group chief operating officer Tim Ritvo “have taken the initiative to spearhead the project” in time for the Preakness.
”I think the location [makes a difference],” Keefe said. “It’s a venue that attracts [people] who like to gamble and it’s different from table games and slots. When people are there for an evening, maybe they want to take a break from one of those two forms of gambling and will want to try betting on the horses. Or maybe they have their wives and other friends with them and the wives and friends might want to try the horses.”
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As the first new 150-stall barn at Laurel Park nears completion and those at the Bowie Training Center move closer to being relocated, Stronach Group C.O.O. Tim Ritvo and MJC Vice President and General Manager Sal Sinatra provided answers to many questions horsemen may have about the changes.
When do you expect the first 150-stall barn to be completed at Laurel Park?
SINATRA: “The target date is the first of April. With the weather, the last snowstorm, we might be a tad behind.”
When will the second 150-stall barn be started?
SINATRA: “The land is being cleared now. The plan right now is to start building in May.”
What about tack rooms, wash stalls and everything else that goes into that project being completed?
SINATRA: “We are looking to purchase external tack rooms, completed buildings that will be dropped outside the barns. We’re pricing them now and I suspect they’ll be delivered within two weeks of purchase. By the time the barns are completed and I get the COs [Certificates of Occupancy], they’ll be there. Before we can finish the wash stalls and showers, the structure needs to be completed and the pipes need to be run to connect with the sewage system. But it all has to be done by the time the barns are occupied and our date for completion is the first of April or a week from that date.”
When will Bowie close?
RITVO: “We don’t even like using the word closed. We like to think of it as a remodel. We have to scale back operations, look at the facility and decide what to do with it."
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