Maryland Racing and Community Development Act of 2020 becomes law

Posted: May 7, 2020

The Racing and Community Development Act of 2020, which will protect the long-term future of horse racing in Maryland through the rebuilding of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park into state-of-the art facilities, on May 7 was one of many bills Gov. Larry Hogan allowed to become law without his signature May 7.

The legislation, which had broad bipartisan support in the House of Delegates and Senate, calls for the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $375 million in bonds for the projects through a combination of funds from the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account, the Purse Dedication Account, video lottery terminal payments to Baltimore City and money from the Maryland Lottery. The Act will take effect June 1.

The plan that led to the legislation was put together beginning last summer by Alan Foreman, legal counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; Alan Rifkin, legal counsel for the Maryland Jockey Club; and Bill Cole, a consultant who previously served as President of the Baltimore Development Corp. The plan includes a new stable area, training facility and synthetic racing surface at Laurel and the ability to use the new Pimlico as a year-round event and community center. A major part of the legislation is keeping the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and giving the racetrack property to the city.

“It has been a long road, and we’re all thrilled about the future of Maryland racing now,” Foreman said. “It’s hard to believe, but this (plan) didn’t even exist a year ago. We took our best shot and put together a plan that is a win-win for everyone involved. This legislation got very little pushback and had strong bipartisan support. This is a very important day in the future of the Maryland racing industry.”

The legislation passed both houses on the final day of a General Assembly session shortened by the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), which ultimately led to a shutdown of numerous Maryland business and industries, including live horse racing. Foreman said the current environment will impact when the rebuilding plan can begin, but in the meantime the Maryland Stadium Authority will begin to do the necessary design work.

“We’ll have some breathing room in the transition period,” Foreman said.

Hogan, who also allowed legislation authorizing a statewide sports betting referendum to be on the November ballot this year, indicated in a release that he didn’t look favorably upon bills that increased spending or taxes. The Racing and Community Development Act was designed to employ funds already dedicated to the racing industry.

“We decided last year we needed to do this within our own means with existing revenue,” Foreman said. “We avoided a potential problem with a capital project that does not require (tax increases).”

The two-track reconstruction project will also provide many jobs, both in the construction phase and after the projects are complete, and protect one of the most important industries in Maryland, Foreman said.

Other key horse-related aspects of the Racing and Community Development Act are formation of a dedicated equine health, welfare and safety committee that will fall under the Maryland Racing Commission and produce annual reports, and a study into construction of an equine research and medical facility at the rebuilt Laurel.