Let's Get Moving

July 2009

 

by Ross Peddicord
A former Thoroughbred breeder, Ross Peddicord is a co-founder and publisher of Maryland Life. In his prior life, he was the Baltimore Sun's race writer and was a frequent feature writer for Maryland Horse (now Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred) and The Equiery.

The first Maryland slots license is going to be awarded during Maryland Million Week. Wouldn't that be a great item to Tweat?

For years the Maryland Lottery Agency has been telling us you gotta play to win. Now, it's up to them to help us win!

Or, ar least, feel a heckuva lot better.

What more opportune time for Lottery officials to make the announcement, that three of the four proposed Maryland slots parlors have been granted their licenses, than during Maryland Million Week, the fall's mini-Preakness-like racing celebration when horse racing gets its second (and perhaps only other) significant amount of mainstream media coverage.

It is the Maryland Lottery Agency that will make the final decision to award the licenses, after a thorough, nearly year-long application and site selection process overseen by the Video Lottery Facility Location Committee. That's the committee headed by Harford County's Don Fry that works in conjunction with the Lottery Agency and was set up within weeks after the slots referendum passed by a landslide last fall.

This year the Maryland Million will run at Laurel Park on September 26, which gives the Lottery Agency three more months to get its ducks in a row (or get its act together, depending upon one's frustration level with the process).

Imagine the buzz that such an announcement would create and also spill over into the October Yearling Sales when local breeders are counting on the proceeds to keep operations afloat for another year. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that yearling prices stand to be boosted if buyers once again have an added incentive to purchase Maryland-breds.

Everyone knows the Arundel Mills site is a political football, but aren't things going a lot smoother in the approval process at the proposed locations at Ocean Downs, Cecil County and Baltimore City? Couldn't at least one of the sites be awarded its license during the Maryland Million festivities, in time to create some sorely-needed positive spin for the racing industry?

A healthy portion of slots revenues, nearly 10 percent, go into funding higher purses, breeder awards and improvements at the tracks, so the sooner that the slots dough starts rolling in, the sooner it starts trickling down into the pockets of Maryland horsemen and their related counterparts.

It is one thing to hope that help is on the way, but by actually awarding the licenses, the Lottery Agency sends the message at an ideal time that indeed, the agency is getting a heckuva lot closer to showing us the money!

All summer Marylanders have been hitting the highways, running their horses out of state, making commutes that take nearly as much endurance for the trainers, grooms and the horses, than actually running in the races themselves. A trip from Laurel Park to Colonial Downs is almost a 21st century version of "The Trail of Tears," and no doubt, a cause for developing Maryland Racing Road Rage.

What better time to reward them for their patience and perseverance than when the Maryland racing community reconvenes at Laurel in the fall.

Why Is It Taking So Long?
It's not as though Don Fry and his Facility Location Committee have been sitting idly by the pool this summer.

The 7-member commission has made site visits to the casinos at Dover Downs and Harrah's in Chester, Pa. to get a first-hand look at the neighboring competition. Then on July 15, William Rickman's Ocean Enterprises LLC, which applied for 800 slots machines at its Ocean Downs facility, unveils more of its plans in a presentation before the Commission and the general public. The Commission next visits the Cecil County and Baltimore City sites and wraps up its last trip on September 9 for a planned visit to Arundel Mills.

"We are hoping to still make the decisions in the fall," Fry said in a recent email. "The key regarding timing of the awarding of any licenses is the speed in which the background investigations are completed. That responsibility is with the State Lottery Agency. We will make no awards until the background investigations are completed. We have asked them to move on them as quickly as possible."

Is Arundel Mills Off The Table?
As for Arundel Mills, the proposed casino site at the Mall is not a done deal either way.

On July 6, the Anne Arundel County County Council meets for yet another round of public testimony on an amendment tied in with the zoning approval process. Then on July 13, the Council meets to approve a replacement for former Council chairman Ed Reilly, who resigned to fill a vacancy in the county's State Senate delegation. It is possible that a final vote to approve or disallow zoning to build a slots casino at Arundel Mills could take place July 20, or at the very latest, August 5.

Currently two councilmen, Josh Green and James Benoit, have come out against slots; two councilmen, Ronald Dillon and Ed Middlebrooks, have indicated they are for slots although Middlebrooks has given the indication to at least some observers that he might be softening his stance; and two council members, Catherine Vitale, the acting chairman, and Daryll Jones, who represents the Arundel Mills district, are undecided. It appears likely that whoever replaces Reilly will honor his stance as a slots proponent.

"I'd say on any given day, or week, it's 60-40 odds it will pass, or 40-60 that it won't," said Dan Donovan, a retired business consultant who represents his neighborhood civic association in an effort to block the proposed casino. Neighborhood concerns are focused chiefly around increased traffic, parking and security issues.

But whatever happens at Arundel Mills, the Lottery Agency can still move forward and approve licensees in other jurisdictions, hopefully in time for the Maryland Million. Then slots operators could open temporary parlors while they build more elaborate facilities and gambling revenue could start accumulating, perhaps as soon as 2010.

So if you're listening Buddy Roogow--he's the well-respected longtime director of the State Lottery Agency--please do what you can, and try to make it happen!

 

 

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