Weren't slot machines supposed to save horse racing in Maryland?
|2010 Preakness Stakes (Mitch Stringer/PressBox)|
It seems ever since Timber Country won the 120th running of the Preakness Stakes a decade and a half ago, this state's horse-racing industry has said it couldn't survive without the loud, shiny slot machines that draw thousands of gamblers to horse tracks in neighboring states.
Well, slots are here -- just not at Pimlico or Laurel Park.
Election Day 2010 saw Martin O'Malley defend his claim to the Governor's Mansion in Annapolis, and it also saw Anne Arundel County residents approve the required zoning for a giant slot-parlor at Arundel Mills Mall. At the end of the day, the Maryland Jockey Club found itself out millions of dollars, spent in an effort to defeat Question A, and without slot machines at Laurel.
"The people of Anne Arundel County have spoken," said MJC president Tom Chuckas Nov. 2 in a statement. "While we continue to believe that Laurel is the optimum location for [video lottery terminals] in Anne Arundel County, the Maryland Jockey Club will now consider its options going forward and we will consult with the Maryland Racing Commission to enact the changes required as a result of this lost opportunity at Laurel."
The changes came quickly. The morning after ballots were cast, the state's longest-standing organization announced yet another cut in live racing. MJC said it plans to close its Bowie training center, halt all live racing at Laurel and turn the park into an off-track betting site, and run a 40-day schedule including the Preakness at Pimlico. This year, 20 days of racing were held at Pimlico, and Laurel Park is in the middle of a 126-day schedule ending Dec. 18.
Less than a week after the Jockey Club announced the end of live racing at Laurel and drastic cuts at Pimlico, Frank Stronach, founder of MI Developments which controls the MJC, went 180 degrees from Chuckas' announcement, pledging to hold races at Laurel and Pimlico next year.
If Stronach's pronouncement gave hope to Maryland's horsemen, it was short-lived. The following day, Penn National, MI Development s partner in the MJC, said it would block any move to continue live racing at Laurel Park, which loses anywhere from $4 million to $7 million a year.
So here we are. After years of debate and millions of dollars invested on both sides of the slots issue, gambling machines are in Maryland. But instead of bringing with them a clear future for the state's horse racing industry, the latest events have left the waters even muddier than before. And thousands of workers, riders, trainers and breeders are left asking, what now?
-- Kevin Heitz
Issue 155: November 2010