Pimlico redo bill takes first step towards passage
Horses head into the first turn at Pimlico. Photo by Dottie Miller.
There’s still a ways to go. But advocates of legislation that would provide the structure and funding to raze and rebuild Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park have to be happy with how this week has gone.
The so-called Racing and Community Development Act, SB 987, passed the Senate Budget Committee unanimously on Friday, the Baltimore Sun reports. Now it’s on to the Senate floor for consideration, which could occur next week.
“This bill is about history and tradition and preserving things,” Sen. Guy Guzzone (D-Howard County), the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, had said during a hearing February 25. “But in many ways, it’s also about moving forward.”
The legislation empowers the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $375 million in bonds to support the two projects. Racing interests are kicking in land — the Stronach Group is donating the Baltimore property to the city — and money. The industry’s contributions include $5 million annually from the Purse Dedication Account, a fund dedicated to racing purses created by the sport’s share of slot machine revenues; and the Thoroughbred industry’s remaining share in the Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account, a different slots-generated fund which provides money for capital improvements to the racetracks.
The Senate bill has numerous cosponsors, including Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). The House companion bill, HB 1056, was introduced by Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County).
Both bills had their first public hearings earlier this week and generally received a positive response, though some legislators did express concern about the possibilities of cost overruns and how those would be covered. The bills have strong support from the state Thoroughbred industry’s major organizations, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Maryland Horse Breeders Association, as well as the Stronach Group, which owns the racetracks. Representatives from both the MTHA and MHBA testified in support of the bills on Tuesday.
In addition to the funding, the bills also call for the creation of an equine welfare and safety advisory committee that would be managed by and report to the state Racing Commission.
While the bills would provide the wherewithal to allow Pimlico to continue to function — for short periods each year — as a racetrack and for Laurel to become the year-round locus of training and racing in Maryland, they differ on what to do with the former Bowie Training Center property still owned by the Stronach Group. The Senate bill directs that the property be conveyed in two separate parcels to two government entities, while the House bill would create a task for to study how best to use the property. The Stronach Group has said that it prefers the House language.
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