Live racing dates to expand again in Maryland in 2017

Posted: Nov. 18, 2016

The Maryland Jockey Club will offer 162 live racing programs in 2017 under a schedule approved by the Maryland Racing Commission Nov. 15.

It marks the third consecutive year that Thoroughbred racing dates will increase in the state.

Laurel Park will kick off the year with a 38-day winter meet that runs through March, with racing scheduled for three days a week. Details on subsequent meets will be released in the future, but Pimlico Race Course will race four days a week during a meet much shorter than the one held this year, while the Maryland State Fair at Timonium will race seven days beginning in late August.

The MJC was approved for 156 racing dates this year, so the 2017 number represents an increase of six days. Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which operates Laurel and Pimlico Race Course, said if more revenue becomes available, live racing dates would continue to grow in Maryland.

“Racing four days a week all year for about 200 days is the goal,” Ritvo told racing commissioners. “This will make us competitive and a leader in the Mid-Atlantic region.”

The MJC also will increase live racing dates at Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track and simulcasting wagering outlet it purchased earlier this year from Penn National Gaming Inc. Rosecroft, which is set to undergo some interior renovations, will race 60 evening programs, up from 54 this year.

Ritvo noted that overall, pari-mutuel handle on races in the United States has been stagnant, but dollars have shifted to the Maryland product the last few years. For instance, total wagering on Laurel races was $296 million in 2014, but it jumped to $355 million in 2015 and is projected to reach $425 million when 2016 comes to a close.

The MRC approved off-track betting permits for the state, and Ritvo noted growth in that sector as well. In 2014 MJC-operator OTB facilities generated about $8 million in handle, but the projection for 2017 is about $42 million, which he said equates to $1.7 million in additional purse money.

Ritvo said the company, which currently has five OTB outlets in Maryland, has plans in the works for two more: one at the soon-to-open MGM National Harbor casino and another at a restaurant in Silver Spring just north of Washington, D.C., which he called “an untapped market.”

Belinda Stronach, president of the The Stronach Group, was a special guest during the Nov. 15 racing commission meeting. She presented the company’s vision for horse racing.

“We have a very good team here (in Maryland),” Stronach said. “We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting the last couple of years, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot more heavy lifting to do. We respect integrity and the tradition (of racing) but we’re investing in technology and a compelling experience for our customers.

“Our commitment is there for the future, not just in Maryland but all around America. I believe in it. I can see where we have to go.”

(Laurel Park photo by Tom LaMarra)