Racetrack Owner Might Donate $2 Million to Proponents

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The owner of two of Maryland's major racetracks appears poised to contribute as much as $2 million toward the passage of the state's November slot-machine referendum proposal, providing an infusion of cash from an industry that has been slow to contribute to the effort.

Magna Entertainment, which owns Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, was authorized this week to use a portion of a bridge loan to promote the measure, which would legalize up to 15,000 machines at five Maryland sites.

The authorization came from MI Developments, a Canadian-based real estate company that holds a controlling interest in Magna and announced changes to a loan to Magna this week.

Dennis Mills, MI Development's interim chief executive, said yesterday that he expects that the $2 million will be used to promote passage of the proposal in Maryland.

Mike Gathagan, a spokesman for the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel and Pimlico, said the money would soon be forwarded to For Maryland For Our Future, a committee coordinating the pro-slots campaign.

Committees working for and against passage of the referendum are not required to disclose donors before Oct. 10.

Word of the expected contribution was welcomed by other slots supporters, who have been frustrated by the reluctance of track owners to make sizable contributions. Laurel is among two racetracks that would be eligible for slots licenses, and a portion of proceeds would benefit all major tracks in Maryland.

"It is a welcome development," said Gerard Evans, a lobbyist for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, an organization that has pledged to contribute. "The timing of the funds is perfect, and hopefully others will follow."

Slots opponents said they were not surprised by the development. "They know the value of this license," said Aaron Meisner, chairman of Stop Slots Maryland.

For months, slots supporters have been pressuring the owner of Ocean Downs Racetrack on the Eastern Shore to make a contribution. Ocean Downs is the other existing racetrack that would be eligible for a slots license. Penn National Gaming, a Pennsylvania-based gaming company, has also pledged to contribute to the pro-slots committee. Penn National is interested in competing for a license to operate a non-track site in Cecil County.

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