To many members of the state legislature, "racing" is something less than wholesome or desirable.
The owners of the Maryland's three major race tracks - Pimlico, Laurel and Bowie - are considered particularly suspicious characters here. And always have difficulty getting their proposals passed.
The racing industry people usually leave here having accomplished little more than having had further irritated and aggravated a large number of senators and delegates.
"If it's racing, it's stinks," Sen. Julian Lapides is fond of saying, and Lapides is considered by colleagues to be something less than a maverick on racing matters.
Legislation backed by the racing industry was introduced this week. The proposal calls for the state to surrender 2.34 percent of handle (from its 5.34 percent takeout) on pari-mutuel wagering, with 1 percent going toward bigger purses. Another 1 percent would go to the tracks and .34 percent would go to breeders. Getting the state to yield money could be sticky.
"That's unlikely. Highly unlikely," Del. Ben Cardin said. "I can't see the state giving up any of its revenues."
Cardin is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"We heard some testimony this summer, and I think the racing people made a convincing argument that they need more money for purses," Cardin said. "But I don't think the race tracks were convincing when they said they, too, needed help, although there might eventually be some truth to that."
The racing legislation, once again, has arrived a little late in the session,
"That's not the way for them to do it," Cardin said. "Maybe it's because they have to talk so long with each other. Whatever, they should get down here as early as possible with their bill because they know it's going to be controversial.
"I think," Cardin added, "they are becoming more conventional in their approach lately. They are using the more traditional types of lobbying. Certainly we have given them lots of attention. The legislature is knowledgeable about their problems. We know they need help. What has to be determined is what method should be used to provide that help."
The industry has a new leader here, this time around, in Robert Banning, who succeeded Newton Brewer last year as chairman of the state racing commission. Banning, a Hyattsville automobile dealer, appears to be off to a good start in his political post. And he believes the industry's united approach may pay dividends.
"We've been most pleasantly received in most quarters when we've discussed the situation," Banning said. "The people in the legislature are not turning their backs to us. It's not like last year, when there was the 'problem with Marvin'."
Banning is convinced the extra money for purses is justified.
"We're offering $20,000 a day less than our neighboring states," he said. "Now Virginia is seriously considering becoming new competition8, Col. 4> ing becoming new competition for us. My approach has been, in the package we've prepared, for every group to have to justify its position to the legislature. The tracks certainly are entitled to try, just as the horsemen and the breeders are."
Banning observed that "the IRS laws make it necessary for the owner of a race horse to show a profit two out of seven years in order to qualify as a business and not be a hobby. Increased costs make that difficult since the purses have not been increasing."
There is a strong possibility that certain legislators will revive the issue of a "consolidation" of Maryland tracks, under state authority.
"I believe ultimately, someday, the state will have to look at it," Banning said. "The Meadowlands concept in New Jersey has shown it can be successful. But the population around the Meadowlands is not to be confused with the size of our population.
"It's a heck of an idea, until you find out how much money would be involved. First you'd have to establish the value of the three existing tracks, at $35 million to $40 million. So you'd be talking of $100 million in round figures.
"In this state, at this moment, is the time right for such a bold move? I can't say that. I'm not opposed to it. But what I'm interested in right here, right now, is reality. The commission will endorse that which each segment justify its request. If a segment can't lature for its support in that particular area. Our recommendation will be subject to one thing: the request must be justified."
It will be interesting in the weeks ahead to see what happens if, as expected, the legislative committees divorce, by amendment, the tracks' request from the horsemen's and the breeders' requests. Would the tracks then continue to support higher purses or would they try to kill the entire package?
That answer probably won't be known until the final hours of this legislative session.