Horse racing: How Miller would mitigate 'disaster'
There's no doubt Maryland lawmakers love horse racing -- they've given the industry $45 million in recent years and have promised it future annual payouts of up to $140 million through slots revenue.
Yet even its staunchest advocate in Annapolis, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, acknowledges that horse racing, anchored by the money-losing Maryland Jockey Club, is deeply troubled.
"It has been a disaster for the state of Maryland, a total, unmitigated disaster," Miller said of racing's course over the past decade.
But how would Miller mitigate the disaster? The Southern Maryland Democrat said again and again: The answer is slots. He sees electronic gaming as inextricably tied to the health of horse racing.
As such, Miller said, the greatest help lawmakers could provide is to legalize slots at Rosecroft -- a harness racetrack in Prince George's County built by his family in the 1940s.
Recently purchased by Penn National Gaming, Rosecroft is shuttered. Penn National officials say they want to return live racing to the track, as well as offer simulcasting of races across the country.
Miller insists that the facility -- helped by its proximity to the tourist attractions of D.C. and National Harbor -- would thrive with slots, which he says could help attract a younger generation to racing. Rosecroft could take its cue from Ocean Downs on the Eastern Shore, the only horse racetrack in the state authorized to have slots. It opened last fall.
Slots at Rosecroft would need the blessing of Maryland voters in November 2012, at the earliest. That's because when lawmakers designed the gaming program in 2007, authorizing five sites across the state (none of which was in Prince George's), they sent the issue to the ballot.
The longtime Senate president can't help but lament what Maryland and horse racing "lost" by not authorizing a slots program eight years ago, during the tenure of Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who made slots one of his signature issues.
Miller bitterly recalled the "party politics" and "lack of vision" that he said have cost the state hundreds of millions in revenue and brought Maryland's storied horse racing to the brink of demise.
"We lost it," he said. "We were ahead of everyone, all the states on our borders."
He's left, he said, with skepticism that the horse racing industry can survive in Maryland. "But I still have hope."