The Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill Saturday night that would steer up to $1.2 million a year in operating assistance to an Eastern Shore horse track — over the spirited objections of a Montgomery County lawmaker.
“You know this is wrong. You know it!” Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons told his colleagues before they voted 76 to 44 for the legislation.
The bill would continue to make two Maryland racetracks eligible for a share of Maryland’s slots revenue: Ocean Downs on the Eastern Shore and Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County.
Simmons (D) said only Ocean Downs would meet the conditions in the bill to qualify for the aid, which was first made available this year. The bill passed Saturday night continues the aid through 2015.
The operating assistance is being redirected from a portion of slots proceeds originally intended to supplement horse-racing purses.
Del. Frank S. Turner (D-Howard), who chairs a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the issue, argued that the assistance would help bolster the ailing horse racing industry, which he called “a tremendous industry in Maryland.”
Turner also referenced difficulties that a casino adjacent to Ocean Downs has had in attracting customers during winter months. The track and casino are located above five miles west of Ocean City.
Simmons said he considers the legislation “a very, very disturbing bill” designed to help a wealthy track owner.
Before the vote, Simmons succeeded in persuading colleagues to add a provision to the bill that bans the owner from using the operating assistance to make political donations.
The track owner, William Rickman, his family members and companies have given to thousands of dollars to Maryland candidates over the years.
A similar version of the legislation has already passed the Senate. The modified bill is expected to be considered by that chamber on Monday.
The bill drew attention earlier in the session because one of its Senate sponsors works for a company that helped build the casino at Ocean Downs.