ANNAPOLIS, AUG. 5 -- Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said today that the Maryland Racing Commission has the authority to approve an emergency regulation that would allow intertrack betting for the first time between Maryland tracks.
Curran said, in an opinion, that a 1984 law authorizing "telephone betting" allows the commission to approve a plan that would let patrons at Laurel Race Course watch and bet on races being run at Pimlico. The simulcast plan would be the first of its kind in the state.
At a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee today, some legislators said the opinion goes far beyond the intent of legislation they approved in 1984. "What you're doing is circumventing the legislative process," Sen. George W. Della Jr. (D-Baltimore) told Martin Jacobs, general counsel for Pimlico and Laurel.
But others on the committee, including the bill's original sponsor Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), said the commission was doing its job in coming up with a "system" of telephone betting. "I think it's very clear" that the law allows the system the commission agreed to, Bromwell said.
"Who cares?" asked Sen. Michael J. Wagner (D-Anne Arundel). Wagner said the plan advanced by Pimlico and Laurel owner Frank De Francis "is a better idea than what we had when we passed the bill."
Sen. James C. Simpson (D-Charles), cochairman of the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, has said he opposes the simulcast plant.
Although the Senate Finance Committee deals with racing legislation, the final decision on the simulcast plan would come from the committee, which will meet Aug. 25. The committee of senators and delegates reviews emergency regulations set by state agencies, in this case by the Department of Licensing and Regulation.
The department this year had rejected a request from De Francis to set up the system so that the Preakness could be broadcast to Laurel. De Francis said the reason for the rejection was a lack of time to work out the details, but some officials in the department questioned whether the state law allowed such a plan.
Although Curran said questions about the law raise "difficult, and interrelated, legal and policy concerns," he believed the system proposed by De Francis and endorsed by the commission is allowed under the law. "Given the great diversity of uses of the telephone common to our society, we do not think that legislative authorization for the commission to 'establish a system of betting by telephone' is inherently limited to one particular system," Curran wrote.
Under the plan, Laurel patrons would watch the Pimlico races on big-screen televisions and their bets would be put into the pool at Pimlico. De Francis said he wants to try the program on an experimental basis during Pimlico's six-week season that begins Sept. 8.
The proposed program is expected to bring $4.2 million in wagering at Laurel, according to the racing commission. The Laurel track would make nearly $376,000, about $386,000 would go for purses and $21,000 would go to state racing tax revenue.