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Commission offered few details about agreement to keep horse racing tracks operating through end of the year


Commission offered few details about agreement to keep horse racing tracks operating through end of the year

Jun 07, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By William F. Zorzi
Commission offered few details about agreement to keep horse racing tracks operating through end of the year
Two horses race for the finish during opening day of the spring meet at Pimlico Race Course. Photo by William F. Zorzi.

Thoroughbred racing will continue in Maryland at least through the end of the year, under an agreement between industry officials and owners of the Pimlico and Laurel Park tracks.

The Maryland Racing Commission was informed of the agreement between the parties Tuesday at a regularly scheduled meeting at Laurel Park, though the deal was not presented to the panel for its approval.

The new agreement for racing operations in the state supposedly is not much different than the one currently in place between the Maryland Jockey Club — a subsidiary of the Canada-based Stronach Group — Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Maryland Horse Breeders Association. That agreement was a 10-year deal that already had been extended from Dec. 31, 2022 to June 30, when it was due to expire.

Mike Rogers, acting president of the Maryland Jockey Club, told the commission of the agreement, explaining, “we’ll continue to work on the long-term plan through this next extension.”

Michael J. Algeo, a retired Montgomery County circuit judge who chairs the Maryland Racing Commission, said he understood that the principals brought news of the new agreement and extension to the attention of the regulatory panel as “a courtesy.”

“At this juncture it’s just simply informational for us that they’ve reached an agreement,” Algeo said. “We haven’t seen anything yet; so, we’re not in a position to make any additional comments.”

He later said, “I’m not going to approve anything without knowing what’s in the agreement.”

Part of the negotiations thus far have been around a Maryland Jockey Club proposal for the horsemen and breeders to give up a greater percentage of their share of purses — racing’s prize money — to offset the cost of track operations, people with knowledge of the discussions have said.

Racing Commissioner Robert Lillis asked Rogers to elaborate about the use of purse money to subsidize track operations.

“I don’t think I’m at liberty to talk about the details of … the extension agreement,” Rogers replied. “I’m not authorized to talk about those terms — and that would involve one of those terms.”

George P. Mahoney Jr., a Baltimore County horseman who was named to the commission by Gov. Wes Moore (D) in March, questioned Rogers more closely.

“At any stage, will the Maryland Racing Commission be privy to the terms of the six-month agreement?” Mahoney asked.

“I would have to defer to our lawyers on that. I don’t know what the disclosure requirements are on that,” Rogers replied.

Alan M. Foreman, general counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said the use of purse money to subsidize track costs has been in place since the 2012 agreement was approved.

“Ultimately, if and when there’s a longer-term agreement, that issue will be addressed,” Foreman said.

Much of the other negotiations have involved determining where and when thoroughbred horses train and race, and ways to prop up the ailing industry by reducing costs at the two thoroughbred tracks.

Commissioner Ernie Grecco asked Rogers to explain the decision to announce the closure of the off-track betting (OTB) facilities at Pimlico Race Course — which Maryland Matters first reported May 31 — only to have the Maryland Jockey Club’s corporate owner, Stronach’s 1/ST Racing & Gaming, reverse the decision the next day, June 1.

“We pressed the pause button on that after hearing some feedback from some of our staff,” Roger replied. “So we’re still evaluating … what it might look like.”

Grecco, a former labor leader, then asked if there would be any compensation for displaced workers, should the closure ultimately go through.

“Absolutely we will look after the workers, there’s no question that that’s a priority for our company,” Rogers told him.

Track workers are represented by United Food & Commercial Workers Local 27.

In other action, the Racing Commission approved the racing schedule at Laurel Park from June 5 through August 24, which would include 33 days of live racing and 48 days of simulcasting.

The commission also appointed Mahoney as the panel’s nonvoting ex officio member on the new Maryland Thoroughbred Operating Authority, established by the General Assembly this year to oversee racing in the state.

Mahoney, a former paving contractor whose father was a member of the Maryland Racing Commission in the 1940s, volunteered for the post.

His father, George P. Mahoney Sr., who headed the Maryland Lottery Commission after the state lottery was started in 1973, was a perennial Democratic political candidate viewed by many as a “spoiler” in a number of elections.

The Maryland Thoroughbred Operating Authority became a legal entity June 1, though Governor Moore has not yet named his appointees to the nine-member board.

The General Assembly’s presiding officers — Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) — jointly named their two picks May 23.

They are Louis J. Ulman, a lawyer who once chaired the Maryland Racing Commission, and Charles G. “Chuck” Tildon III, a politically connected vice president of the University of Maryland Medical System Corp. and one-time campaign treasurer of former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.