12/13/2010 11:28AM

Laurel, Pimlico proposal calls for 77 race days

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Maryland horsemen say they oppose the request for 77 dates at Laurel and Pimlico in 2011.

The owners of Laurel Park and Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland will submit a proposal to the state racing commission next week for a 77-day racing schedule in 2011, despite opposition to the plan from the state’s horsemen, an official for the partnership said Monday.

Eric Schippers, spokesman for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns 49 percent of the two tracks, said the schedule was devised in consultation with MI Developments, its partner. The partners devised the schedule after the state racing commission in November rejected an earlier proposal to run 47 dates at the two tracks.

Schippers said the schedule would allow for racing through the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on the third Saturday in May. Racing would be conducted at Laurel Park during the winter and early spring, Schippers said.

Horsemen, however, have rejected the 77-date proposal in two separate meetings with Penn National and MI Developments, according to Alan Foreman, the legal counsel to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The horsemen continue to maintain that the state can support year-round racing, Foreman said, and are working with officials in state government to develop an alternate plan.

“I can tell you that there is zero support for this plan from the horsemen,” Foreman said. “We agreed with Penn National and MI Developments not to negotiate in public, and they’ve gone public with it. We will continue our discussions with the governor’s office.”

Penn National and MI Developments also plan to lobby the state legislature early next year for an expansion of the state’s casino-gambling law, which allows slot machines at five locations under a constitutional amendment. MI Developments had applied for a slot-machine license at Laurel Park in 2009, but the application was thrown out when the company did not include a $28.5 million fee required under the state’s law.

“We think that as you look at the neighboring racing jurisdictions, all of which have gaming at the tracks, it’s apparent that the long-term viability of racing requires slot machines,” Schippers said.

The state’s racing commission is scheduled to meet Dec. 21 to consider the proposal. The commission rejected the partnership’s 47-date schedule in late November after horsemen and commissioners roundly criticized the proposal. This year, the two tracks are conducting 146 race dates.

Schippers said that officials for the partnership will continue to meet with the racing industry early next year on a “long-range plan that is going to ensure the viability of racing.”

Penn National bought into the tracks this year in the hopes that it could steer the lone casino license allowed in Anne Arundel County to Laurel, but voters in November rejected a company-sponsored referendum that would have overturned the zoning approvals for the current licenseholder.

Under the constitutional amendment, the state’s racing industries will receive as much as $100 million in subsidies for purses, breeders awards, and capital expenditures, regardless of where the casinos are located. Horsemen have cited the subsidies in saying that the state can support a year-round racing schedule, but Penn National and MI Developments have said that the tracks will continue to lose millions of dollars a year, even with the subsidies.