The State of Maryland receives nearly $22 million a year in tax revenues from pari-mutuel wagering at its race tracks. That's not bad, particularly when one considers the state's total annual investment in racing is $157,000. The state doesn't even pay the state steward in the steward's stand.The track does.
So now, after decades of state profit at racing's expense, the racing industry is asking the gentlemen in Annapolis to come to its aid. Owners of race horses need higher purses if they are to continue to play in area arenas.
"If we don't get a daily purse structure of $70,000 (up from $50,000), you are going to see a trashy bunch of horses running at Maryland tracks in the very near future." Fendall Clagett warned Thursday. "The state's breeding program also needs help. Stallions standing in Maryland aren't being subscribed to, simply because breeding programs in other nearby states like New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvani offer a better deal."
Clagett is president of the Maryland-West Virginia division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, an organization of owners and trainers. He also breeds thoroughbreds at his Larking Hill Farm.
Last year, in West Virginia, Clagett was instrumental in getting the Charleston legislators to surrender a small piece of the action in order to aid horsemen in Charles Town. He believes Maryland lawmakers can be persuaded to do likewise.
"There's ample precedent all over the nation," Clagett insisted. "The states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois and, I believe, Ohio, have recognized the need to help the industry. New York is expected to gave up 3 percent of its share of the takeout this year. California's started talking about it. So had Florida."
The racing bills in the Annapolis hopper would have the State of Maryland relinquish 2.34 percent of its current 5.34 percent share of the takeout from the handle. Another 2 per-cent would go toward purses, 2 per-cent to the tracks and .34 percent to the breeder's fund.
"It is going to be up to each group in racing to show they can justify their needs at the committee hearings," Clagett said. "I'm confident the horsemen can. We've already been overpaid (in purse last year) three-quarters of a million dollars by the tracast year) three-quarters of a milliom dollars by the tracks, about a quarter of a million each by Bowie, Pimlico and Laurel, and we're still struggling.
"I ponder sometimes, in the back of my mind, how to make the best and the strongest impression on the legislators as to just how desperate our situation has become. There must have been all kinds of suggestions, from having no racing one day in order for the horsemen to go to Annapolis, to having hundreds of us drive down there with our trailers and pickups to get the point across.
"I don't know," Clagett conceded. "It may come to that."
If Clagett can coax the legislature into giving up any of the 2.34 percent it's supposed to surrender here in 1978, he will, indeed, be the man of the year in Maryland racing.
That's not going to happen, however, and you can bet on it. The state may be willing to let the horse players pay for the horse owners' higher costs, by increasing the takeout on the multiple pools but it's not going to surrender any of the $22 million it receives darn near free of charge.
The lawmen may scoff at times at the relatively "small" amount of money racing brings directly into the state treasury - compared with the billions of the overall budget - but they're smart enough to realize it's the cheapest tax dollar they can collect from any sources.
They've got a good thing going.
Racing folks can give a hundred intelligent reason why the state should cooperate, for its own good, over the long run, but they'll be wasting their breath. Racing's relief will have to be provided by the players - not the politicos - and the industry will be happy to get help from any source.