MD General Assembly passes major racing bill on session's final day

Monday, May 13, 2024

Legislation that authorizes the redevelopment of Pimlico Race Course and creation of a not-for-profit operator under the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority passed both houses April 8, the final day of the 2024 Maryland General Assembly session.

House Bill 1524 passed the House of Representatives April 1 by a vote of 104-34 and was sent to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which held its first hearing on the bill April 5. Committee members indicated they planned to propose amendments, and that triggered several days of negotiations among all parties that were able to quickly hammer out an agreement.

The Senate committee met again the morning of April 8 and introduced multiple amendments that were adopted. The revised bill was sent to the full Senate, which approved it by vote of 41-6. The House then concurred and passed it by a vote of 105-32.

Gov. Wes Moore, a proponent of what is called the “Pimlico Plus” plan, is expected to sign the legislation into law. It takes effect June 1, and that will start a six-month period during which the not-for-profit operator will be formed and be prepared to take over operations of Pimlico and Laurel Park from 1/ST Racing (The Stronach Group) effective Jan. 1, 2025. In addition, the acquisition of land for a new training center that will eventually replace Laurel is expected to be completed by the end of this year,

“I cannot overstate what a historical moment this is for Maryland racing and its future, the City of Baltimore and the Park Heights community and the racing industry,” said attorney Greg Cross, Chair of the MTROA. “We are ready to begin the hard work that is required with a renewed sense of commitment and purpose. I couldn’t be more excited.”

The MTROA, created last year by the General Assembly, already had announced that TSG agreed to transfer ownership of the Pimlico property to the state for $1. Under the deal with the MTROA, TSG will license the Preakness Stakes and Black-Eyed Susan Stakes to the state. Cross earlier said TSG will receive $3 million in perpetuity plus 2% of total pari-mutuel handle from the two most lucrative days of racing at Pimlico each year. There will be a 10-year license that would renew every five years.

TSG will operate the Preakness at Pimlico this year and in 2025, and at Laurel Park in 2026 to accommodate construction at Pimlico. The MTROA and its not-for-profit will assume control in 2027 at the new facility. Outside of those two days, the not-for-profit will be in charge of all racing operations at Laurel and Pimlico beginning in 2025. Cross also said TSG agreed to allow use of Laurel for racing and training "rent-free" for three years (2025-27).

Senator Guy Guzzone, who sponsored the 2020 Racing and Community Development Act and who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee, again played a key role in the negotiations and passage of this year’s racing legislation. (The 2020 legislation also had final passage on the final day of he session.) Though Guzzone and other Senate committee members expressed concerns during the hearing, the committee moved the amended House bill to the Senate floor on a 13-0 vote.

“Obviously, we’ve been down this road before,” Guzzone said on the Senate floor. “We’ve put together a plan that will move everything forward. Everyone wants to see the Preakness continue.” He also said that like the 2020 legislation, the new bill has “thoughtfulness” that takes into consideration the potential impact on the communities that currently host horse racing.

House Bill 1524 was sponsored by Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, who championed the measure during multiple legislative hearings. She chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, where the bill was introduced.

The late amendments include the addition of two voting members to the MTROA Board of Director and the designation of Park Heights Renaissance to oversee the $10 million that will be used to create workforce housing near Pimlico. In addition, 20% of the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account will remain with the Standardbred industry going forward. About $4.5 million in RFRA money not used by TSG for Rosecroft Raceway will be used in fiscal 2025 to support operations at Laurel, but in fiscal 2026 the funds will be “backfilled” to the Standardbred industry.

RFRA will eventually sunset under provisions in the law that authorized casino gambling in Maryland.

The rebuild of Pimlico and construction of a new training center will be funded through $400 million in bonds issued by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The legislation projects spending of at least $250 million at the Pimlico site and about $110 million for the training center.

Money began flowing to the Racetrack and Community Development Fund after passage of the 2020 racing bill. Revenue sources include $5 million a year from the Purse Dedication Account, which derives funds from a 6% share of casino video lottery terminal revenue, and Thoroughbred RFRA money.

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