04/17/2006 11:00PM

One conflict ends while another still rages

Email

TUCSON, Ariz. - Two civil wars were in the news of racing and gaming last week, one finally ending after a decade of fighting, the other still raging.

Both were geographically near the originals.

The racing version was settled not far from the bloodiest one-day battle of the real Civil War, Antietam in Maryland.

The gaming battle was being fought at the very gates of the battlefield that Lincoln called "this hallowed ground," Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.

The 1862 Civil War battle of Antietam lasted only two days, between the Union army of George B. McClellan and the Confederate forces of Robert E. Lee, but it left 23,000 casualties in its wake. The one that ended last week in Maryland raged for 10 years, between the forces of Thoroughbred racing and harness racing, with no fatalities but with deep wounds to horse racing during that decade.

It concerned revenue splits and hours of simulcasting operation. The McClellan and Lee of this battle were Alan Foreman, one of the sharpest racing lawyers in America, for the Thoroughbred troops, and Tom Chuckas Jr., one of the savviest track operators in racing, for the Standardbreds.

There were many others who played important roles, just as generals such as Stonewall Jackson and Jeb Stuart and Burnside and Longstreet did at Antietam, but Foreman and Chuckas were the real leaders who fought it out for years and last week finally worked out a peaceful accord. Racing in Maryland and far beyond owes them a debt of gratitude, for the end of this battle is, like Antietam, a crucial turning point for the future, in a state that has given horse racing some of its finest moments.

When the armistice was ratified by the key armies involved last week - the Maryland Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Breeders Association on one side and the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, Cloverleaf Enterprises, and Maryland Standardbred Breeders on the other - the result was a "cross-breed agreement," hammered out by the warring parties. The Maryland Racing Commission had called for such a settlement for years, and the Maryland legislature was not unaware of the conflict. The disagreement and lack of unity in racing provided the legislators with convenient ammunition in their repeated and highly politicized denials of slots for Maryland tracks.

Under the cross-breed agreement, Cloverleaf - the harness horsemen's group that owns Rosecroft Raceway - will pay the Maryland Jockey Club $5.9 million a year for the right to accept bets on Pimlico, Laurel, and an assortment of out-of-state Thoroughbred tracks.

If the legislature issues any purse subsidies, they will be split 80-20 in favor of the Thoroughbreds. Net revenue from the existing OTB's also will be split 80-20.

Revenues from any new OTB built outside a 35-mile radius of each track will be kept by the organization building the facility.

And both sides will ask the legislature to eliminate the 6:15 p.m. provision in Maryland racing law, which prevents Thoroughbred tracks from conducting evening or night betting.

While this resolution was being hammered out in Maryland, indicating that good deeds can come from good will, the burghers of Gettysburg, not too far distant, were locked in combat, neighbor against neighbor, either enthusiastically supporting or bitterly opposing the building of a casino hotel complex a mile from where Lincoln's "brave men" fought and died.

The director of planning and historic preservation for Gettysburg, Walter Powell, says there is an "undercurrent of concern, frustration, anger and bitterness" running through the picturesque town, which looks not too different today than when Lincoln gave his famed address on Nov. 19, 1863.

The Gettysburg Borough Council wants the Crossroads Gaming Resort and Spa to be built, thinking it will bring more tourists and their dollars to a town that has been a tourist destination for a century and a half.

The nonprofit Gettysburg Civil War Preservation Trust sees the idea as an intrusion, with one member calling the group that wants to build the casino "a sleazy enterprise." Some lawn signs read, "Casino yes, good jobs," and others proclaim, "Don't gamble with our future."

The town, like the nation 150 years ago, is torn apart.

One easy solution would be for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board not to give Crossroads a slots license when it issues them in the months ahead. That might end plans for a resort and spa in the flash of a cannon's flare, just as real ones snuffed out the invasion of the North and saved the union, at fearful cost, those many years ago.