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Bill to establish oversight board for thoroughbred racing headed to quick finish in General Assembly

Jockey Charlie Marquez riding Da Winner Is races in the second race of the day at Laurel Park on March 15, 2020. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.

A bill to establish a new authority with wide-ranging powers over Maryland thoroughbred racing is galloping past the quarter pole, headed for the homestretch in the General Assembly as Monday’s legislative finish line looms.

In less than a day, Senate Bill 720 was passed by the Senate, sent to the House of Delegates, referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, made the subject of a Friday morning hearing, voted out of committee and sent back to the floor of the House unamended.

That nearly guarantees the fast-track legislation will be approved and sent to Gov. Wes Moore (D) ahead of the also-rans still winding around the backstretch, bound for the sine die wire.

The proposed nine-member Maryland Thoroughbred Operating Authority is being established to oversee the stalled plans for improving the Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park tracks and to be a fail-safe for running the facilities, should the owners shut down racing July 1, the day after an agreement for operations expires.

That private agreement is between The Stronach Group, the Canada-based track owner operating here as the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC), and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

The authority “would be a vehicle, in the event we need to prop up a new ownership group here in Maryland for day-to-day racing and training,” William H. Cole IV, a member of the Maryland Stadium Authority board, told the Ways and Means Committee on Friday.

High costs of three-year delay complicate efforts to move forward on Pimlico, Laurel Park redevelopment

Cole has been attempting to resolve some of myriad problems that have stymied progress on redevelopment of the tracks, a project overseen by the Stadium Authority whose cost estimates have nearly doubled in the three years since the legislature first authorized the sale of bonds for work at Pimlico and Laurel Park.

Under the legislation, the Thoroughbred Operating Authority would oversee a new Maryland Racing Operations Fund, which would include money transferred from the existing Racing and Community Development Facilities Fund that is intended for the track improvements.

The operations fund eventually would also include proceeds from the sale of $375 million in bonds that were authorized in 2020 by the legislature for redeveloping Pimlico and Laurel Park, but never sold.

The Maryland Stadium Authority would still be responsible for construction of any new facilities.

“This is an important next step to protect the industry and redevelop the Pimlico site, both for racing – to help the Preakness – and housing, recreation and other uses,” said Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City), whose 41st District includes Pimlico and environs.

As part of the original legislation three years ago, Maryland Jockey Club was to convey the Bowie Race Course Training Center property to the City of Bowie by Dec. 31, 2023. In turn, the city of Bowie was to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Bowie State University for use of some of the land.

The new bill, however, would put off the land transfer for a year, until Dec. 31, 2024, and give the city $100,000 for an environmental assessment of the site.

The nine-member authority would have one member from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; one from the Maryland Horse Breeders’ Association; and three others who have relevant industry, business or government experience. One of the five would serve as chair. The five unpaid members would be appointed by the governor with advice and consent of the Senate.

In addition, the panel would include the chair or executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority; the chair or executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corporation; a non-elected member nominated by the Senate president; and a non-elected member nominated by House speaker.

Four nonvoting ex officio members were also amended into the bill — three community representatives and a member of the Maryland Racing Commission, the industry’s regulator in the state.


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Bill to establish oversight board for thoroughbred racing headed to quick finish in General Assembly