When Maryland's intertrack wagering proposal was overturned by a legislative oversight committee three months ago, racing magnate Frank De Francis said the growth of Maryland's racing industry was needlessly stymied. This winter, he'll have an opportunity to find out whether he was right.
The Maryland Racing Commission passed a measure Wednesday that will allow intertrack betting between Laurel and Pimlico race courses on a one-year experimental basis beginning March 4.
Because the measure is not classified as an emergency regulation -- as it was when the commission first accepted it in August -- approval by the state legislature is not required. However, legislative leaders said they might consider the issue at the session beginning in January.
The commission's ruling will allow Pimlico to simulcast to Laurel, and Laurel to Pimlico. Fans watching the simulcast will have their bets tied in with those at the live track.
"There were no emotional scars for me personally stemming from the state's original decision," De Francis said. "The only thing that bothered me -- and it still does -- was the 170 jobs lost and the quarter of a million dollars the horsemen didn't get. What I don't want is complacency to set in for anyone. We have to be innovative, creative and aggressive to keep our industry moving forward."
De Francis and partners Bob and Tom Manfuso see intertrack wagering as a means to make the race track more accessible to fans.
"I'm even more convinced now that we definitely have a marketplace at Laurel for people throughout the Washington metropolitan area," De Francis said. "The fact is, people from Northern Virginia are more likely to come to Laurel than to make the two-beltway, one-interstate trip to Pimlico.
"What I don't know is to what extent our simulcasting to Laurel will cut into our existing market at Pimlico. Can we be productive at Laurel without diluting what we've already established? That's why this is an experiment."
Intertrack wagering had been approved, 8-7, by the Administrative Executive Legislative and Review Committee Aug. 25, but Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. rendered the vote invalid because one supporter voted by telephone.
The regulation originally was considered "emergency" because of its restricted time frame. Race track officials sought to simulcast to Laurel this fall because Laurel's Sports Palace would have afforded fans an opportunity to watch Pimlico's races and other sporting events simultaneously.
Arctic Cloud took the lead at the start and led the rest of the way for a 2 1/2-length victory over Scotch Heather in the $23,000 feature race at Laurel yesterday. Ridden by Jeff Lloyd, the 3-year-old granddaughter of Northern Dancer was timed in 1:38 for a mile.