12/21/2010 6:13PM

Maryland racing in limbo as latest proposal for dates is rejected

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The Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday rejected a proposal by the owners of Laurel Park and Pimlico Racecourse to run 146 live race dates at the tracks in 2011 after horsemen expressed opposition to several provisions in the proposal, according to reports.

The rejection of the proposal leaves the Maryland racing circuit in limbo heading into 2011. Without a dates agreement in place, Maryland tracks, offtrack betting locations, and account-wagering platforms will be unable to offer betting on any Thoroughbred races, including simulcasts, beginning Jan. 1. In addition, the lack of an agreement threatens the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, which is scheduled every year for the third Saturday in May at Pimlico.

The tracks' owners, MI Developments and Penn National Gaming, had asked the commission to approve 146 race dates, but the deal would have required the state’s horsemen to contribute $1.7 million toward operating the tracks and to relinquish their simulcasting rights.

Horsemen said during the meeting that they could not accept the provisions, despite supporting the number of race dates that the two companies proposed, according to the reports.

The Tuesday meeting was the last scheduled for the Maryland Racing Commission before the end of the year. Racing interests are expected to negotiate on a dates deal up to the start of the new year in order to avoid a cessation of betting in the state, but officials for horsemen have said recently that the two sides remain far apart.

Following the meeting, Martin O’Malley, Maryland’s governor, released a statement calling on the racing industry to come together on a plan that would ensure that racing continued in 2011.

“I would encourage the track owners, industry representatives, and horsemen and breeders to return to the table and reach an agreement that protects the jobs that depend on our rich history of racing in Maryland,” O’Malley said in the statement.

O’Malley also said in the statement that his office would examine its options under a measure passed by the legislature that would enable the state to take possession of the tracks under eminent domain if the Preakness were threatened. The Preakness is one of the state’s largest tourist draws, according to some studies, with annual attendance of approximately 100,000.

“We will continue to explore the legal options available to us,” the statement said.

Last month, the commission also rejected a 47-date proposal submitted by the tracks’ owners, a schedule that would have entailed 17 days of live racing at Laurel in the winter and a 30-day meet at Pimlico running through the Preakness. Horsemen and breeders in the state had packed the November meeting to register their concerns about the reduced racing schedule.

The racing industry in Maryland is currently at cross currents because of the competing interests of its constituencies. Horsemen, for one, maintain that the two tracks need to be open for most of the year in order to present enough live-racing opportunities to maintain stables in the state. But MI Developments and Penn National contend that the racetracks are no longer financially viable as a year-round racing circuit.