All segments of the Maryland racing industry agree that purses must be raised $20,000 a day -- from $50,000 to $70,000 -- if the state's major tracks are to be competitive with tracks in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Legislation was introduced with a push from facing industry, yesterday which would reshape the tax structure on the sport.
The bills call for the state to surrender 2.34 percent of its present 5.34 percent of a takeout on pari-mutuel wagering. One percent would go toward increased purses, .34 of one percent would go to the breeders' fund and the other one percent would go to the tracks (Pimlico, Laurel, Bowie and Timonium).
In addition, the takeout on the betting in daily double and exacta races would be increased from 16 to 19 percent at the major tracks and the tax on the triple would be increased from 16 to 25 percent. These increases would yield another 2 percent overall rise in the takeout without affecting the win, place and show betting, which would continue to be taxed at 15 percent.
The hike in the takeout on the multiple pools would yield one percent for higher purses and another one percent for the tracks. Combined with what the state would give up, this would amount to a total of 2 percent more for purses and 2 percent more for the tracks in addition to the .34 for the breeders.
Exacta and daily double wagering account for 45 percent of the betting at Maryland tracks. The triple attracts 10 percent, with the remaining 45 percent bet at the win, place and show windows.
At present the takeout in Maryland is 15 to 16 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation. The state receives 5.34 percent, with 9.66 percent going to the tracks, of which 5 percent is specified for purses and one-half of 1 percent is designated for the state breeding fund, one-half of 1 percent goes to a track improvement fund and one-quarter of 1 percent is set aside for a pension fund for track employees.
The takeout on win, place and show betting is 15 percent. On exactas and the triple, the tax is 16 percent, the extra 1 percent accruing to the tracks.
Many horsemen are apprehensive as to what the legislature's reaction will be.
Robert Banning, chairman of the state Racing Commission, recently named Fendall Clagett (owners and trainers), Frank Bonsal (breeders), and chuck Lang (track management) to a committee designed to help draft the best possible bill to be presented by the industry in Annapolis. Lang, general manager of Pimlico, reflects the committee's belief that the lawmakers, if they act responsibly, will grant the purse relief.
"Racing nationally needs help," Lang asserted. "Pennsylvania and New Jersey already have recognized that fact. California is talking about reducing its share of the take. The governor of Florida now talks about his state's 'obligation' to keep racing healthy and the governor of New York is recommending that his state cut the tax on betting there from 17 to 14 percent.
"Maryland is no different. We need immediate help. We need the legislature to extend its hand to see what can be done to keep this valuable source of revenue healthy in the state."
Lang is referring not only to the $22 million the state received from the tax on wagering, but also to the $400 million industry the sport represents: The breeding farms and the agricultural products, in addition to the racetrack properties.
"Horse racing and breeding is one of the very biggest industries in Maryland," Lang declared. "We shouldn't have to go to Annapolis with hat in hand, or on bended knee, not when you consider how many people are employed by racing and the products that are produced. I think the state has an obligation to this industry.
"Yet, in recent years, when we've gone down there we've been told of 'the pending (Mandel) trial' that's killed our chances, or 'the trial' or 'the uncertainty' because racing was involved. Now, this time around, we're told 'it's an election year.' Some people down there wouldn't touch racing with a ten-foot pole.
"Just how much longer must we sit and twiddle our thumbs. . . while the industry is on the edge of disaster? I know you don't go to war with the people in Annapolis. But we've got to make our stand."
Lang readily admits that the racing industry must bear much of the blame for its failure to be well-received in state capitals.
'We've failed to get the message through, nationally and locally," he said. "We must show the legislators what racing is and what its needs are. We don't have to be ashamed of racing in Maryland. We can be proud of our product but there's no way we can stay competitive under the current figures."
The early word out of Annapolis is that the legislature might seriously consider helping the purse structure this year but it does not want to grant relief to the tracks directly. There is a feeling among the lawmakers that not all of the state's three major tracks deserve aid, even though the tracks' labor costs will increase sharply over the next two years under terms of a 1977 contract.
"They're also saying there 'ain't no way' the state of Maryland is going to surrender any of its share of the takeout to help the sport," Lang acknowledged. "Well, I remember being told by Gov. Mandel that we should come forward with a unified package, not as separate interests, and that's what we've done.
"I'm sure there also will be discussion again of 'state consolidation' or 'state takeover.' God bless them. I only hope, if they talk that way, they're sincere. If they're sincere, let's go on with it. But it would be wrong to use that kind of talk as a smoke screen or a charade against this bill.
"And I'll say one more thing. If this industry bill were to be amended but still have left in it considerable aid for purses it would be wrong for any of the race tracks to oppose it. That would be disgraceful. I don't think they would. I know Pimlico wouldn't"