MD lawmaker offers plan for Bowie Training Center upkeep

Posted: Feb. 15, 2017

A Maryland lawmaker has offered a legislative amendment that would make the Bowie Training Center eligible for racetrack capital improvement funds generated by video lottery terminals at the state’s casinos.

The amendment also would strike language regarding condemnation of the Bowie property, which is owned by the Maryland Jockey Club but had fallen into disrepair since training ended there in the spring of 2015.

Democratic Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith, during a Feb. 15 hearing by the House Ways and Means Committee, said her amendment would add the Bowie Training Center to the list of facilities eligible to use the Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account, which is funded by 1% of VLT revenue. Prince George’s County, the City of Bowie, and local residents said it is imperative the historic piece of property be regularly maintained given it serves as a gateway to the city.

Valentino-Smith said she prepared the amendment in part given indications by the MJC the Bowie property is a “critical piece” of its future plans for Maryland racing.

The original legislation was first heard during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Feb. 2. During that meeting, the MJC agreed to begin a regular maintenance schedule for the 140-acre property, author a memorandum of understanding for all parties, and provide regular updates.

There didn’t appear to be an appetite by the Senate committee to move forward with condemnation proceedings; rather, lawmakers encouraged a simple agreement between the MJC and the city.

MJC President and General Manager Sal Sinatra told the House Ways and Means Committee the company already has hired contractors for maintenance and has submitted its first bid for a six-foot privacy fence along Race Track Road. He also explained, as he did before the Senate committee, that the MJC could use the Bowie Training Center again pending future developments in the Maryland racing industry.

Sinatra noted the Maryland Stadium Authority is preparing to release a report on the first phase of a study to determine the feasibility of Pimlico Race Course in the future as host for the Preakness Stakes and race meets in general. The majority of racehorses are stabled at Laurel Park, but about 300 horses remain at Pimlico.

“Our plan with Bowie was based on trying to get Maryland racing back (on solid footing), so we moved horses to Laurel Park to save on costs,” Sinatra said. “We have 300 horses at Pimlico and we’ll need a place to put them (should there be construction at the Baltimore track). There’s no room now at Laurel.”

Sinatra also mentioned using Bowie as a quarantine facility if the need arises.

The Maryland Stadium Authority has scheduled its next meeting for March 7, but there has been no date announced for release of the Pimlico report.

John Favazza, an MJC lobbyist, said the racing group “fully acknowledges the concerns and is working diligently to make commitments in writing” for maintenance of the Bowie property. He said the MJC opposed the original legislation that called for condemnation of the land but doesn’t believe it opposes the amendment that would add Bowie to the list of RFRA-eligible racing properties in the state.

RFRA money is paid as a match to funds expended by racetracks, and the expenditures must be approved by the Maryland Racing Commission.

In response to a question from Democratic Delegate Eric Luedtke about possible opposition within the industry, Sinatra said the majority of the Thoroughbred industry’s 80% share of RFRA money goes to the MJC, so it would simply amount to a shift of some MJC funds. The other 20% can be used at two Standardbred tracks—Rosecroft Raceway, which is owned by the MJC, and Casino at Ocean Downs.

J. Kenneth Battle, who manages the Prince George’s County Intergovernmental Affairs Division, said he supports the legislation’s intent “to have a productive outcome and proper utilization of the (Bowie Training Center) property as defined in statute. We understand the parties are trying to work it out.”

(Bowie training gate photo by Tom LaMarra)