Long-suffering Maryland tracks still waiting for a casino bailout

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It enabled the Maryland Jockey Club to use money allocated for capital improvements to racetracks and other facilities for operational use - paying employees and keeping the races going. This system is allowed through 2013.

“We have some time to work out our issues. … Right now, we’ve got a respite,” Mr. Chuckas said. “For ‘11, ‘12 and ‘13, there’s a foundation to keep racing moving forward. The challenge that we face is, what do we do after ‘13?”

The Preakness is safe for now, and the single biggest sports event in Maryland is expected to draw another big crowd and monster ratings Saturday, but the rest of the industry doesn’t have many other reasons for optimism.

Breeding numbers down

Nowhere is the shortage of horses in the mid-Atlantic region more prevalent than in Maryland, Mr. Foreman said.

In 2003, 1,023 registered thoroughbreds were foaled in Maryland, compared with 1,039 in Pennsylvania. In 2009, just 586 foals were born in Maryland and 1,486 in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the breeding industry in West Virginia — which Ms. Goodall said was on the brink of extinction in the late 1990s — has rebounded.

It’s no coincidence that West Virginia approved slots in 1994 and Pennsylvania followed 10 years later.

“You can see in those numbers the states that have slots and the states that don’t. The states that have a lot of slots money, their production numbers reflect that,” Ms. Goodall said.

Breeders receive incentive money when their horses born in a state place first, second or third in a given race within that state. Ms. Goodall said that Maryland’s incentive pool of $3 million pales in comparison with Pennsylvania’s $25 million, and that “many, many horses” moved north to take advantage of that money infused from slots throughout the state.

The uncertain futures of Laurel Park and Pimlico have reduced the breeding number in Maryland, Ms. Goodall said.

“In the horse industry, not much happens fast, especially in the breeding industry,” she said. “How do you know? How do you plan? Granted, you have to be a risk-taker in any state. If you’re breeding thoroughbred horses, it’s a gamble and an expensive long-term commitment.”

Following the money

Money - through slots or other means — drives horse racing just like any other sport. But it goes well beyond breeding and the races that fans watch every day.

In Maryland, the money isn’t plentiful for either.

“It’s clear in every state that has a healthy industry — it’s money,” Ms. Goodall said. “If you can’t compete on both a purse level and an incentive fund level … then you’re not going to have that business. The business is going to follow that money.”

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