Maryland Racing Commission to take role in contract talks

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Feb. 9, 2023

As representatives of the Maryland racing and breeding industry continue to negotiate given the expiration of a 10-year agreement Dec. 31, 2022, the Maryland Racing Commission has expressed interest in playing a role in the discussions.

After an initial one-month extension, Maryland Jockey Club Acting President Mike Rogers told the MRC Feb. 7 the parties have extended the negotiation period by six months—beyond the Preakness meet at Pimlico Race Course. The primary parties are the MJC, which is owned by 1/ST Racing (The Stronach Group); the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

The initial 10-agreement, which guaranteed 100 live racing programs and called for a “revenue-sharing” contract with horsemen for additional dates, was signed in December 2012. Then-Gov. Martin O’Malley and the MRC were involved in the negotiations that led to the agreement.

“We’ve had very good conversations,” Rogers told the MRC. “I can say the conversations have been very positive.”

In a follow-up, MRC Chairman Mike Algeo, a retired Maryland Circuit Court judge, said when he visits the state capital of Annapolis on business, “the questions I get from people are more about horse racing than criminal law.” Algeo said the top questions pertain to the status of the stalled Racing and Community Development project, which was signed into law in 2020; the status of negotiations on the operating agreement; and whether an operating agreement is a preceding condition for the redevelopment plan.

“I’m thrilled you have reached an agreement to extend discussions on the 10-year agreement,” Algeo said. “Historically, the racing commission has been involved in the discussions and would like to be involved in these discussions.”

Algeo said he wants to set up a meeting of stakeholders—in person, because he is “Zoomed out.”

“This is important stuff and it requires people to be (present) and involved,” Algeo said, expressing a sense of urgency. “We’re going to do what we can to advance the ball. The agreement was extended six months, but you can look back in a week and that six months is gone.”

As for the redevelopment of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, the Maryland Stadium Authority submitted a Jan. 1, 2023, report to the General Assembly, which as of Feb. 8 had not scheduled any committee hearings on the plan or the three reports it ordered early in 2022.

The latest MSA report notes that construction (or demolition) at Pimlico was expected to begin no later than the summer of 2023, but it’s doubtful “until the program, funding and operational structure for Laurel Park have been identified.” That aspect has been delayed because “the MJC indicated that (its) desire is to sell Laurel Park and receive compensation for the venue, adding a significant acquisition amount to the already over-budget facility.”

The MSA report states that funding is an issue for the projects. The 2020 legislation set the price tag, paid through bonds, at about $375 million. “Based upon information known at this time, MSA estimates the total project budget deficiency to fall in the range of $160 million to $350 million.”

The MSA said it “will continue to work with our project partners to resolved outstanding agreements and will for direction from the legislature on a desired path forward regarding programming, funding and long-term ownership and operations for both facilities.”