A proposal to legalize Maryland online casinos did not get much traction in the 2023 session of the state’s General Assembly, but a long-standing gambling-related issue did generate some legislative action.
As the General Assembly session was ending on April 10, an amendment to SB720, which extended the termination date of the Maryland Horse Racing Act, created a new group, the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority. The bill with the amendment passed Monday, the final day of the legislature’s session.
The significance of that move is that the state is renewing its effort to help guide the state’s Thoroughbred horse racing industry to a place where the sport can survive and thrive.
In summing up the purpose of the new Racetrack Operating Authority, the legislation is direct: “To maintain the state as a best-in-class Thoroughbred horse racing venue.”
Home of Preakness Stakes Is Outdated
By now, the problems of horse racing along with its tracks and facilities are an old story in a state where Maryland sports betting is gaining traction.
Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore is the legendary stage for the Preakness Stakes. But the setting for the middle jewel of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown is by most measures out of date and a poor venue for such an important sports event. In fact, the lion’s share of the Thoroughbred racing in the state occurs at Laurel Park, about 45 minutes south of the city.
The two tracks and the Preakness Stakes itself are operated by the Maryland Jockey Club. That in turn is owned by Canadian-based 1/ST Racing, which was previously known as The Stronach Group. The company also owns Gulfstream Park in southeast Florida and Santa Anita Park in Southern California.
Push To Modernize in Maryland
There has been a push to modernize the Old Line State’s standing in horse racing just as online Maryland betting apps have brought wagering on sports into a new age.
Several years ago, with concerns looming that the Preakness Stakes could be moved to an out-of-state venue, Maryland passed legislation to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to refurbish both Pimlico and Laurel and, indeed, tear down Pimlico – known as Old Hilltop – so that a new home for the Preakness could be built.
With little happening in the last few years, the amendment to SB720 addresses racing and training facilities and requires the new racetrack operating authority to craft a report addressing the progress of Pimlico and Laurel redevelopment. The deadline for that report is Dec. 1.
Thoroughbred horse racing in Maryland has been helped substantially by casino slots money. In fact, one driving force behind the push for casino gambling in Maryland, which originally was just slots and electronic games, was to help horse racing survive.
To this day, a portion of slots revenues from the state’s casinos contribute tax money to support the state’s horse racing industry. In March alone, that amounted to nearly $7 million in purse dedication and about $1.4 million to a Race Tracks Facility Renewal Account.
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