Racing legislation stalls as Maryland session ends

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: April 10, 2019

The 2019 regular Maryland General Assembly session ended April 8 without resolution of important issues facing the state’s horseracing industry as several bills failed to make it to the finish line.

The legislation in question dealt with the long-term status of Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness Stakes, financing for major construction projects at Laurel Park and the Bowie Training Center, and the eligibility of the Maryland State Fair at Timonium for Racetrack Facility Renewal Account funds. In addition, lawmakers declined to act on the legalization of sports betting at racetracks and casinos.

With just a few days left in the session, quickly-crafted amendments to a Timonium-only bill that had unanimously passed the House of Delegates began making their way through the Senate. The amendments would have expanded RFRA, which is funded by a share of casino revenue, to make Laurel and Bowie eligible for financing via the Maryland Economic Development Corp. It also would have included Pimlico—whether for racing or non-racing development—and put in place deadlines for The Stronach Group, owner of the Maryland Jockey Club properties—to meet on the redevelopment of the property in order to receive funds for Laurel and Bowie.

On the final day of the session, the measure was called for third and final reading in the Senate but was sent back to the Budget and Taxation Committee where it died. Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller called it a “very good bill” put together to satisfy all parties, but other lawmakers said the House had no appetite for it given the tight time frame; in addition, House Speaker Michael Busch, who had been ill, died the day before the session ended.

Maryland Senate moves on racing reconstruction legislation

The Baltimore City delegation in the House objected to the Senate bill. City officials have been adamant about keeping the Preakness in Baltimore rather than having it move to Laurel.

The Timonium provision, which would have awarded the facility a total of about $1.75 million in RFRA funding from 2020-24, was a casualty. Another bill that would have made Bowie eligible for standard RFRA funds unanimously passed the Senate earlier in the session but never cleared a House committee.

As for sports betting, legislation was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on a proposal to authorize it at tracks and casinos in the state pending the results of a referendum as required by the state constitution. The bill didn’t progress, but it wasn’t surprising because the earliest a referendum can be held is November 2020, and the General Assembly can consider action on the legislation next year.

Meanwhile, the developments won’t impact ongoing improvements in the Laurel stable area, MJC President Sal Sinatra said April 9. Materials for a three-level structure that will house a new receiving barn, offices and more than 100 dormitories are on the grounds at Laurel and the effort to get building permits from Anne Arundel County are underway.

(Laurel Park photo by Tom LaMarra)