Maryland Senate moves on racing reconstruction funding bill

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: April 6, 2019

The Maryland Senate April 5 moved forward on amended legislation that would permit the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to float bonds for construction projects at Laurel Park and the dormant Bowie Training Center but also mandate that The Stronach Group have in place a development agreement for the Pimlico Race Course property.

The original bill, which earlier passed the House of Delegates by a unanimous vote, provides up to $1.75 million in Racetrack Facility Renewal Account funds to the Maryland State Fair at Timonium over a five-year period from fiscal 2020-24. RFRA money comes from a 1% share of video lottery terminal revenue at five of the state’s six casinos.

The amended legislation, which now heads to the House for consideration on April 8—the final day of the 2019 legislative session—makes the Bowie Training Center eligible for RFRA proceeds, which overall total about $11 million a year. The MEDCO provision would greatly increase capital funds for Laurel, Bowie, and now Pimlico but keep intact the customary amounts available to Rosecroft Raceway and Casino Ocean Downs, both harness tracks, and Timonium.

TSG, which owns the Maryland Jockey Club properties, has said the reconstruction at Laurel would cost about $80 million, and restoration of the Bowie property about $40 million. Under RFRA guidelines, any disbursements must be matched by the operator.

The amended bill provides a list of conditions that must be met in order for the TSG to receive any MEDCO assistance. They include:

  • A Development Review Board would be established to ensure TSG has entered into an agreement for a Pimlico development plan that must be approved by the Baltimore Development Corp. and then agreed to by city government.
  • Finalize a contract for sale or transfer of real property at Pimlico to a non-affiliated third party.
  • Begin construction by July 1, 2019, on the proposed three-level barn and office complex that will provide 120-140 new dormitories at Laurel.

Gov. Larry Hogan, the Senate President and House Speaker would each appoint one member to the Development Review Board, which also would include a retired state appellate judge. The board would be charged with ensuring compliance by TSG to terms of the legislation.

The legislation notes the development plan could be “for the stabilization of the real property for its continued use for live racing or transition of the real property to an alternative use.” Though that language leaves the door open to redevelopment as a racetrack, TSG repeatedly has said it has no plans to invest money in Pimlico for racing purposes.

TSG under the amended legislation also must offer a timeline that demonstrates completion of the Pimlico project not later than seven years after approval of a final plan by the Baltimore City Council and report on progress to the Legislative Policy Committee on or before Jan. 1 of each year. If it fails to complete the project within seven years TSG would have to pay the city $1 million a month until it is finished.

The bill also includes a number of ongoing deadlines the company must meet or risk having the state Comptroller’s Office cut off funding for the redevelopment projects.

According to published reports, TSG supports the amended legislation. Some members of the Baltimore legislative contingent are against it, per the reports.

The bill also states that it is the General Assembly’s intent that the racing commission “consult with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association regarding the number of stalls and training-related facilities” at Laurel and Bowie, and ensure that the funding plan, including the use of proceeds from the issuance of bonds or other financing by the Maryland Economic Development Corp., “appropriately reflects the costs of construction and allocation of the training-related facilities at each state.”

(Laurel Park photo by Tom LaMarra)