I’m sure everyone can tell I’m a huge thoroughbred racing fan. I’ve bet on the ponies more then once. I attended the Preakness a few times but have not been lately. My last Preakness was in 1998. More recently, I’ve attended the festivities the day before for the running of the Back-Eyed Susan Stakes. It’s almost as much fun but isn’t as crowded or rowdy. The Maryland Jockey Club and Magna are trying to change the atmosphere and image of the Preakness, and I’m OK with that. For the long-term survival of the Preakness and the racing industry in Maryland, we’ll have to leave Old Hilltop and move to a new track.
I have read some of the post that say horse racing is a niche sport or it just doesn’t appeal to the younger people in the area. To that I say bull! If you go to Charles Town Races, Dover Downs, or Philadelphia Park you will see lots of older folks there. You will also find a substantial number of young people there too. I attended my niece’s 21st birthday party at Charles Town. I had friends who sponsored a bus trip to Dover, as a fundraiser for the prevention of birth defects. For both occasions, no one wanted to go to Pimlico. Everyone wanted to go a newer, nicer, more modern track with all the amenities. Of course the other tracks had one thing going for them, slots.
The future of racing in Maryland and elsewhere is intertwined with slots and possibly other forms of gambling. As everyone knows, Maryland is surrounded by 3 states that utilize slots to bolster the horse racing industry. We can debate the merits of this but one fact cannot be ignored. Since the other states have legalized slots and used the proceeds to increase the purses and upgrade their facilities, the Maryland racing industry has declined. If we do not help the racing industry, it will simply disappear.
Many Maryland breeders have sold their farms and moved out of state to make the logistics of racing easier. Also in Pennsylvania, if your horse was bred in or your farm is based in PA, you get a higher payout as an owner. How many farms have been lost to development? Depending on the study you read, the horse racing industry and its suppliers employ between 9,000 to 18,000 people. That is a significant number of people. They will be the real losers if we don’t help save racing in Maryland.
The Baltimore-Washington Area is the fourth largest Megalopolis in the United States. If the current growth trends continue, it could surpass Chicago for the third most populated city/regional area around 2030. Eventually, the area could challenge Los Angeles for second. With all of these potential patrons, why would we not build a new track to save our racing heritage and the Preakness?
Studies vary on how much money Marylanders spend at out of state tracks. Marylanders account for about 1/3 of all spending at the Delaware tracks and ½ at the West Virginia tracks. According to both states, Marylanders contributed around 200 million net to their coffers in 2008. Last month, Pennsylvania’s share of slots and racing revenue was 2.76 million per day. It would be beneficial for all Marylanders to keep their money at home. Maryland hopes to collect between $600-700 million a year on racing with slots.
The state of Maryland must become a partner with whoever owns Pimlico and Laurel. The state should authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue new lotteries and bonds to build a new track with a hotel and slots parlor. The new track should be somewhere around the inner harbor and close to the Convention Center. The city could use the new hotel and track as a marketing tool to lure more and larger conventions to town. It should be close to I-95 to allow visitors from the D.C. area and Philly easy access to the track.
Maryland needs to build a first rate facility similar to both of the downtown stadiums. Make it a place to be and be seen. A new track with slots will help generate excitement and curiosity. It will bring people back to the tracks. The racing portion will have to work hard to regain the interest of the general public at first. As people see the horses and the excitement of racing, they will realize horse racing is more than just three races a year.
Horse racing is important and worth saving in Maryland. We need to take our time, do it correctly, build it up, and get the right owner to make it flourish again.