- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2007

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Saying that slots are necessary to save the state’s racing industry, Gov. Martin O'Malley is sending a delegation to examine gambling operations in neighboring states and is in discussions with legislative leaders on the issue.

“The racing industry and the jobs and the open space that is used by the racing industry — all these things are threatened by their inability to compete with tracks in states around us who are able to offer slots,” Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, said. “We can’t expect them to thrive, or even survive, … if we handicap them and don’t allow them the tools that the tracks in all the other states are using.”

The announcement Wednesday came a day after the Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association announced they were cutting back on this year’s racing schedule and slashing purses.

Mr. O'Malley said he is talking with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both Democrats, about slots as part of an effort to close a projected $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

The governor also said Thomas E. Perez, who regulates racing as Maryland’s secretary of labor, licensing and regulation, will visit Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to look at their gambling operations.

Those states fund horse-racing purses with revenue from slot machines on site. Slots supporters say the machines can boost Maryland’s ailing racing industry and also help manage the state’s budget shortfall.

Mr. O'Malley said he supports a “limited” number of slot machines at racetracks to aid the industry.

“We want to look at our competition in other states, to see why it is they’ve been able to infuse their racing industries with new life,” Mr. O'Malley said.

The Maryland Jockey Club also reported Tuesday that wagering figures for its spring meeting were 7 percent lower than in 2006.

Mr. Miller said that after the Jockey Club announcement, “hopefully, people will come to their senses.”

However, Mr. Busch said he thinks the state can subsidize the racing industry without giving a blank check to track owners, noting that New Jersey supplements racing with proceeds from Atlantic City casinos but doesn’t allow slots at tracks.

“I concede that the horse racing industry is at a competitive disadvantage because purses in other states are supplemented by gaming revenues,” Mr. Busch said. “We believe the number that the thoroughbred industry needs in a year is about $50 million to be competitive. … There should be a set amount of money that we give them.”

Lou Raffetto, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, said Tuesday that a subsidy would be little more than “the proverbial Band-Aid.”

Mr. Busch, meanwhile, said he has mentioned to the governor the idea of a referendum, either statewide or in jurisdictions where slots are proposed.

“I think the citizens of Maryland ought to take note that these other states have at least had referendums to determine the length and breadth of the operations,” Mr. Busch said. “Regardless of what came out, it was an important lesson to draw because the citizens had a say.”