Sunday, August 2, 2009

“Once Bullish Racing Industry Faces Slow Death from Maryland “Matador” Michael Busch and The Amazing Political Picadors”


# After Maryland legislators blocked the passing of slots for years, many of our best trainers, farms, and Maryland-bred horses left the area for neighboring states with slots gambling. West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware provided lucrative bonus opportunities in their state bred programs and huge purses to owners of state bred horses. As Maryland-breds and Maryland racetracks had little to offer in comparison, our industry’s lifeblood began its slow trickle toward death.
# Our politicians pulled a cape of misinformation over the eyes of the public, insisting slots gambling would increase crime and "take the food out of the mouth’s of children."
# By 2008, Maryland was facing a financial deficit so huge that state legislators finally backed off the slots issue, and the public was allowed to vote on a referendum in the November 2008 ballot. Even Speaker of the Maryland House, Michael Busch, stopped waving his cape. On November 4, 2009, the people voted and the referendum for slots passed by an overwhelming majority.
# But the games started again late in 2008 when Governor Martin O’Malley and Maryland legislative leaders appointed a Maryland Slots Commission. Most of us had expected to see the slot machines installed at Laurel Racetrack, but we didn’t grasp the significance of the fine print within the Comission’s bidding rules. In February of 2009, Magna subsidiary, Laurel Racing Association, refused to hand over $28.5 million for the chance to bid on a slots license.
# It seems the Association had concerns about getting its money back if local zoning rules created hurdles for their project. Laurel contended the requirement of the licensing fee was without clarity, or legal authority to ensure refundability – that it was unlawful and should not be enforced. Laurel was, however, willing to put the money into escrow.
# At a scheduled hearing, the Slots Commission voted to deny Laurel a bid after ignoring representatives from the Laurel Racing Association and their request for a chance to speak.
# Meanwhile the Baltimore-based developer, Cordish Companies put up $28.5 million and waited to be granted a slot’s license. But in an effort to get the bidding reopened, Laurel sued the Maryland Slots Commission. The case finally wound up with the Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court. Laurel’s insistence there was no legal safeguard for the return of their money, was one of the issues the court was supposed to rule on.
# Being a longtime Maryland horse breeder and hoping to see slots installed at Laurel – a site which would have by far the most positive effect on Maryland racing and breeding – I checked the internet daily for word of the court’s ruling. I even called the court near the end of June and the woman who answered the phone said the decision would come "anytime now."
# Imagine my surprise when I checked the website early in July and read this.: "After June 9, 2009, the Court will recess until September 2, 2009." What a joke. A whole industry waits for a decision and they're in recess!
# But wait! Don’t forget the Cordish Companies’s $28.5 million. The State of Maryland still holds the money and, I assume, receives fat interest payments.
# Meanwhile, Anne Arundel County, where Cordish plans to put slots, had some zoning issues. After indicating a zoning change was required, the County leaders decided not to rule on the issue until September. Do you think Cordish is being screwed? Do you think Laurel Racing was right?
# If you’re a supporter of Kentucky racing no doubt you were dismayed last week to learn the politicians there had dashed your hopes of legalizing slots. My God, you Kentuckians ask, are we following in Maryland’s bloody wake?
# You might ask yourself, "Who benefits from not having slots?" I'd bet my farm that money has been paid in both states, to some person or entity to stop the legalization of slots. Webster's Dictionary should remove the word altruism altogether.
# Maybe I should just have a vodka gimlet and not worry about this stuff. My concerns and efforts to follow the money and figure out who or what is behind each political roadblock are about as useful as beating the carrion eaters off a dead horse.