Md. Racing To Seek State Money For Purses

By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Desperate for an alternative funding source to supplement race purses, at least until a referendum to legalize slot machines goes before the public in November, the Maryland racing industry will seek $24 million to $30 million from the state at the next legislative session, Maryland Racing Commission Chairman John Franzone said yesterday.

The industry will target revenue from a Maryland Lottery game called Racetrax, an animated Keno-like game that simulates horse races and was rolled out to 1,500 lottery outlets in August 2006. Racetrax, which can be played in bars, clubs and convenience stores, has been considered by many in the racing industry a direct competitor to business since its inception.

The Maryland State Lottery Agency reported income of $1.56 billion in fiscal 2006.

The state has not provided substantial financial support for racing purses since 2001, when it cut off a $6.2 million subsidy because of industry infighting. In the past year, racing stakeholders signed long-term contracts and are largely in accord.

Franzone discussed the plan to seek the state subsidy with new Maryland Jockey Club President Chris Dragone and others yesterday during an executive session of the Maryland Racing Commission at Rosecroft Raceway.

"I'm going to try and get in and talk to the governor," Franzone said afterward. "The key thing we need is to get the funding from that Racetrax game. Depending on who you listen to, that's worth $24 million and $30 million. It would be huge for Rosecroft. They would go from $2.5 million to $7 million" in money available for purses.

Franzone said that even if the slots referendum passes, injecting about $80 million a year into thoroughbred and harness racing purse funds, the machines likely would not begin generating income until 2010. That's not soon enough for racing, he said.

"We're not going to get to the promised land if we don't get [help]," Franzone said. "By the time we get the referendum, the patient will be dead."

The Maryland racing industry has been under intense pressure to compete with racetracks in neighboring Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania that have revitalized their fortunes when permitted to install slot machines.

"I think John is right. When you've got the maiden race in Pennsylvania giving away as much money as a stakes race in Maryland, I don't care how smart you are, if you run a horse and train a horse, where do you want to be?" said Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

Magna Entertainment Chairman Frank Stronach met with leaders of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association on Monday to reassure them of his support for Maryland racing.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company