O'Malley brokers deal to save horse racing
Update: Hanah Cho is now reporting that there's a deal in the horse racing standoff.
"Gov. Martin O'Malley brokered this morning a last-minute deal between the owners of Maryland's two major thoroughbred tracks and the horsemen and breeders to guarantee live races next year — less than 24 hours after a state commission rejected a proposed schedule.
The owners of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course and representatives of horse owners and breeders — who traded some contentious words on Tuesday night at a Maryland Racing Commission meeting — agreed after a meeting at the State House this morning to a framework that would allow the tracks to at least break even financially and run 146 days in 2011, the same as this year's schedule.
The agreement, which would need the racing commission's approval, calls for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to contribute $1.7 million and the state to transfer $3 million to $4 million from the state's slot-machine program to help pay for the Maryland Jockey Club's operations. The slots revenue had been earmarked for a track improvements."
Efforts to save Maryland horse racing -- and the treasured Preakness Stakes -- have intensified this morning, with Gov. Martin O'Malley convening a group in Annapolis in hopes of brokering a last-minute deal.
The gathering follows the Maryland Racing Commission's unanimous rejection yesterday, at what was to be its final meeting of the year, of a proposed racing schedule by track owners. This is at least the second attempt by O'Malley to intervene in nearly nonstop negotiations over the past few weeks.
If no agreement is reached by the end of the year, Laurel Park racetrack could close its doors Jan. 1, and the Preakness -- a $40 million boon to the state's economy -- at Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore would be in question.
The Sun's Hanah Cho reported this morning:
MI Developments and Penn National and horse-racing industry representatives were unable to agree on a schedule that would ensure that the Jockey Club would at least break even after years of losses and maintain year-round racing for the thousands of workers in the industry.
Though some commissioners expressed hope that the track owners would come back with another proposal, Penn National spokesman Eric Schippers noted that their latest proposal was "summarily rejected by both the horse industry and the commission."
Two years ago, as the track owners filed for bankruptcy, state legislators granted the governor the authority to seize the Preakness.
O'Malley said in a statement yesterday:
“It's disappointing the parties involved could not reach an agreement. We are prepared to aggressively protect the State’s interests, as we did two years ago when presented with the threat of losing Maryland"s treasured Preakness Stakes.
“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. We will continue to explore the legal options available to us.”