ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 22 -- Racetrack owner Mark Vogel's shaky finances led Maryland Senate leaders today to shelve plans to allow off-track betting parlors in the state.
"There's a consensus among all senators that 1991 is not the year for this issue to be discussed," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's). "We don't have a harness track owner who is a viable participant in the legislative arena."
The move comes as a potential blow to Vogel's efforts to sell his Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill, and Delmarva Downs on the Eastern Shore. Faced with the possible loss of his state racing license, Vogel agreed to place his two harness tracks under protection of bankruptcy court and turn daily operations over to a court-appointed trustee.
In the bankruptcy filing, he valued the racetracks at $35 million, a figure his attorney said was inflated to account for the extra revenue that off-track betting parlors would generate.
Miller said senators do not want to "enhance the industry" with the tracks on the market and Vogel millions of dollars in debt to banks, state tax authorities and others.
Off-track betting "is a big step . . . . We want to do it in the proper way," said Miller, who added that senators want to see Vogel's tracks financially stable and their ownership resolved before resuming the debate.
Vogel's legislative lobbyist, Bruce C. Bereano, said there were no plans to push for off-track betting this year and said he was surprised Senate leaders scuttled the idea before legislation was even introduced.
"OTB was not even on the plate," Bereano said.
Pressure for Vogel to relinquish control of his tracks has been mounting since his arrest in August on cocaine charges.
As additional news of his troubled real estate investments spread, lawmakers also grew concerned he would use the tracks as a source of cash to prop up troubled property deals.
Today's Senate decision puts off for at least another year any resolution of the General Assembly's long-running debate over off-track betting, which would allow bettors to wager at parlors away from the state's two harness and two thoroughbred raceways. Several of the nation's major racing states allow off-track betting.
Two years ago, a gubernatorial commission recommended off-track betting. But lawmakers, concerned about public reaction to an expansion of gambling, rejected the idea.
Last year, prospects for off-track betting were dashed again when Vogel and Joseph DeFrancis, owner of the state's thoroughbred raceways, feuded over where the betting parlors would go.
In the meantime, the threat of heightened competition from the Pennsylvania and Virginia racing industries has failed to materialize.
Off-track betting enjoys widespread support in the racing industry. Last fall the idea was endorsed by the General Assembly's joint racing subcommittee.
Told of the Senate's decision, off-track betting's supporters said the troubles of one person should not deprive the entire industry of a new source of business.
"I don't want Vogel to get anything either, but I don't want to kill an industry because of one person," said Del. Paul E. Weisengoff (D-Baltimore). "The Senate is concerned with image."