Posted: Feb. 25, 2020
The Racing and Community Development Act of 2020, which would solidify the future of the Maryland Thoroughbred industry for the next 30 years, begins moving through the legislative process in the Maryland General Assembly Feb. 25.
Hearings are scheduled in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. The bills, which authorize financing for a rebuild of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, are very similar.
The legislation would create the Racing and Community Development Fund, which would fall under the Maryland Stadium Authority. The financing plan calls for at least $180 million for the Pimlico project and $155 million for the Laurel project. The MSA would need approval from the state Board of Public Works for the bond issue and financing proposal.
Pimlico would have only a small barn area to accommodate ship-ins on race days during a short meet or meets. Laurel, which would be the primary racing facility, would get an entirely new stable area and modernized housing for backstretch workers.
The fund would get about $17 million a year from the State Lottery Fund and $5 million a year from the Purse Dedication Account beginning in fiscal 2021. (The PDA share would come from the 6% of casino video lottery terminal revenue that supports the Maryland racing industry.) In addition, the unencumbered balance in the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account—also funded by a share of VLT revenue but set to expire in several years—as of June 1, 2020, would be placed in the Racing and Community Development Fund.
As noted earlier, the land on which the two tracks sit would be conveyed to their respective municipalities but the Maryland Jockey Club would have control over all operations related to racing and any other forms of gambling.
Both bills reflect the heightened focus on equine health and safety, and that goes beyond installation of a synthetic surface at Laurel. The Maryland Racing Commission will be charged with establishing an Equine Health, Safety and Welfare Advisory Committee that must provide regular reports and a year-end summary of its activities.
The committee would consist of three members of the MRC appointed by the Executive Director; one representative of the racing licensees in the state; a horsemen’s representative appointed by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; a representative of the breeding community appointed by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association; the MRC Equine Medical Director; a veterinarian licensed in the state; and “any other individual with expertise in the equine or racing industries” as appointed by the Executive Director.
Both bills also state that on or before Feb. 15, 2021, the MSA after consultation with the racing industry must report on the feasibility of creating an equine health, safety and research center at Laurel.
The bills differ in regard to the future of the Bowie Training Center. The Senate bill states that by July 1, 2024, the MJC must convey part of the property to the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the remainder to the city of Bowie, which would partner with Bowie State University on various uses. The House bill would create a task force to study the future of the training center that by Oct. 1, 2021, must report on, among other things “the preferred public uses of the property, or portions of the property, which may include multiple uses and users.”
(Laurel Park photo by Tom LaMarra)