When horse racing fans at Pimlico Race Course turn their eyes to the new high-definition television screens to watch a race they no longer have to squint. And when they look at those screens to check the post positions or minutes to the next race they no longer have to search frantically to find the information, thanks to the new clearly designed graphics.
Those are two of the changes that have come to the track this spring and created a buzz and an air of excitement at Old Hilltop.
With changes at the track and some increased advertising, attendance is up and so is the handle, said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, which owns the Maryland racetracks.
“We’ve not gone all out yet with our advertising,” he said. “We’re just getting started. We don’t want to over-market. Once we have some serious renovations done, we’ll market more. We want people who come to enjoy the experience and tell others about it. That’s the best advertising we can get.”
Ritvo said fans “aren’t coming in droves” just yet, but those who are watching the races at Pimlico have indicated they like what they’re seeing – the high-definition televisions and the new graphic designs, which are like the ones being used at Gulfstream Park and other Stronach Group tracks. The consistency among the tracks is creating a familiarity for customers, with clear, easily read information.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Ritvo said. “We’ve seen a lot of customers praising us for the changes we’ve made. The changes we’re making are long overdue. People are telling us they love the new screens, love the high-definition and like the graphics.
“We think the sport is very visual and now the high-definition pictures are much clearer – it pops and makes a really good visual.”
Ritvo pointed out the Sports Palace at Pimlico also has seen renovation that is about better visuals.
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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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