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Maryland Jockey Club, Breeders Association, MTHA Agree To Keep Racing

Written By J.R. Duren | Updated:
Horse race at Pimlico Race Course, with Maryland Horse Racing. Racing tracks will remain open

Horse racing is still alive in Maryland … for now.

Three major horse racing organizations in Maryland have agreed to keep the tracks open for another six months as the two sides continue to negotiate a long-term agreement. Those organizations are:

  • Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA),
  • The Maryland Horse Breeders Association
  • The Maryland Jockey Club, which runs Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course

The announcement is a relief for the state’s two racetracks, which would’ve shut down on June 30 had the two sides not agreed to an extension.

Why Maryland horse racing is on the ropes

The contract extension comes in the wake of years of uncertainty about Maryland horse racing.

The sport’s popularity is, in general, on the decline. Iconic tracks have closed across the country. Pimlico, home to the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, is not immune to that decline (nor is Laurel Park). Both tracks sorely need an upgrade.

Legislators thought they found a solution in 2020 when they agreed to sell $375 million in bonds to finance an upgrade to both tracks. Pimlico would get $220 million and Laurel Park would bet $155 million.

Many in the industry were skeptical of the initiative, as $375 million didn’t seem to be enough to renovate both tracks. And they were right. According to an article by Maryland Matters, By 2022, legislators realized that Laurel Park alone was in such bad shape it would require $305 million to revitalize it.

At that point, legislators and stakeholders realized supporting two tracks may not be feasible. They turned to another option that had been discussed in the past: closing one of the tracks. Past ideas included shuttering Pimlico in favor of Laurel Park, which is around 60% bigger than Pimlico.

However, the plan now seems to be shuttering Laurel Park in favor of Pimlico, or closing both tracks and opening a new facility on parkland in Anne Arundel County that’s more than six times the size of Pimlico’s footprint.

Amid the bond debacle, legislators voted to form the Maryland Thoroughbred Operating Authority (MTOA), a governing body that has the power to propose and oversee the development of “new and existing racing and training facilities,” according to an MTHA press release. Additionally, the MTOA could take over Laurel Park and Pimlico if the Maryland Jockey Club’s owner, 1/ST Racing, decides to leave Maryland horse racing

State subsidies have kept the industry alive

Another factor that’s plagued horse racing in Maryland is subsidies. The state funnels some of money it generates from casino tax revenue to Laurel Park and Pimlico. In fiscal year 2022, horse racing received a 4.5% share of that revenue, or $90.8 million, according to data from the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

Since 2010, when casinos first opened in the state, the horse racing industry has received more than $758 million in subsidies.

Despite that significant funding stream, the industry finds itself struggling to stay afloat and has pushed lawmakers and stakeholders to find new ways to keep Maryland horse racing viable.

What the contract extension means for Maryland horse racing

For now, the contract extension means horse racing will continue in Maryland. But that extension comes at a cost: the MTHA, which already subsidizes Laurel Park and Pimlico through a share of their purses, will have to contribute a bigger share for the next six months, according to another post by Maryland Matters.

While the contract extension keeps Maryland horse racing alive, it is by no means a permanent solution. Maryland Matters said a source with knowledge of the contract negotiations said the following issues are at the center of negotiations:

  • When will thoroughbred races and training take place?
  • Where will the thoroughbred races and training happen?
  • Cost-reduction tactics for Laurel Park and Pimlico

How those negotiations unfold will likely have a significant impact on the future of horse racing in the state.

Photo by Nick Wass / AP Photo; illustrated by PlayUSA
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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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