What the “Pimlico Plus” legislation says

HB 1524, the recently introduced racing legislation which had its first hearing in the Maryland General Assembly March 19, is notable more for what it means than what it actually says. Nevertheless, there are some notable provisions in the 23-page bill.

What it means, Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority (MTROA) chairman Greg Cross told the House Ways and Means Committee, would be the execution of a series of agreements between the MTROA and Stronach Group, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico. Those agreements will allow the MTROA to take control of the Pimlico property and rebuild the crumbling facility, maintain racing at Laurel Park in the interim, and manage day-to-day racing while eventually leasing the rights to the Preakness Stakes.

In other words, it will allow the “Pimlico Plus” proposal to move forward.

All that said, however, the legislation also makes a number of changes to existing law that are notable. These include:

The legislation would delay the conveyance of the Bowie training center property from the Maryland Jockey Club to the City of Bowie until Dec. 31, 2025, one year later than under current law. Even the current provision represents a delay from what was originally anticipated. The change recognizes that Bowie is one of three sites under consideration to serve as a training center, though it is likely not the leader.

Bowie scored third among the three finalist sites – including Shamrock Farm in Woodbine and the Mitchell Farm property in Harford County, which tied with each other – in the ranking by consultant Populous, and “not ideal” is how Alan Foreman, the horsemen’s representative on the MTROA, described Bowie.

“If you have to accommodate Bowie State University and their need for ball fields, and community opposition, whatever it is, that restricts you,” he explained in an interview.

The legislation permits the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue $400 million worth of bonds to support the project, which includes both revitalizing Pimlico and acquiring land and building a training center. That’s a slight increase in bonding authority from the original $375 million, since money set aside for paying off the bonds has been accruing for the last several years even though no bonds have been issued.

Of that amount, the legislation directs that at least $250 million be spent on the rebuilding of Pimlico and at least $110 million be directed towards the training center. The amount directed at Pimlico is up from $180 million in the 2020 Racing and Community Development Act, in large measure because Pimlico is transformed under the new plans from essentially the home of the Preakness and not much else to the focal point of Maryland racing.

Populous, the consulting firm retained by the MTROA to assess and price various options, pegged the cost of a new Pimlico at between $275 and $285 million, while it estimated the cost of a new training center to be about $115 million. In January 2023 the Maryland Stadium Authority estimated the Pimlico project to cost around $280 million.

The new legislation also directs the MTROA and Department of Housing and Community Development to craft a plan for workforce housing around Pimlico.


While the various plans have always called for housing around Pimlico, Foreman said that a new add to the plans is to add housing at the training center, which originally was deemed to be too expensive.

“It’s a precondition,” he said. “It just doesn’t work if we don’t have housing at the training center.”

The proposed legislation also has several provisions with financial implications. For one, it would reduce the amount of Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account (RFRA) funds going to harness tracks by half, with Ocean Downs getting all of the remainder and Rosecroft, currently entitled to a share under existing law, now to receive none.

The amount that otherwise would have gone to Rosecroft will move instead to help service the bond debt incurred for the Pimlico Plus project.

“I’m extremely disheartened that you would do this at the expense of the standardbred industry,” Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association president Jonathan Roberts told the House Ways and Means committee during his remarks Tuesday.

The bill would also shift sales tax on claimed horses from the general fund to debt service for the project. In 2023, 573 horses were claimed in Maryland at a total cost of more than $9.7 million; at a six percent tax rate, that would have generated an additional $584,000 for the project.

The bill exempts horse racing licensees – that is, track owners – from paying the $1 million fee necessary to obtain a Class A-2 sports wagering facility license. That will significantly ease the new racing nonprofit’s entry into the sports gaming market in Maryland.

In addition, the bill will permit the MTROA to access $2 million “for transitional, operational, and capital costs at Laurel Park and other uses deemed necessary by the Authority.”

The legislation did hit a bumpy patch in its Tuesday hearing. Standardbred interests pushed back against the taking of a share of RFRA funds they would otherwise have received, and some legislators clearly were sympathetic to their frustration.

In addition, it seemed clear there is some concern among lawmakers about the extent to which the Park Heights community surrounding Pimlico will benefit from the projects. One, Del. Dalya Nattar, pointed to promises made and broken “over and over again to the communities.”

Even some in racing have concerns: about the planned rotation of the Pimlico racing strip; about the narrowness of the turf course, which will limit grass racing opportunities; about a training center that may end up in Aberdeen, far from where many horsemen now live and work.

But Foreman points out that, despite concerns and what is sure to be some inconvenience, the bill enables the industry to invest in the future.

“Where do you think your future is best had?” he said. “I go with the new facilities because I think it’s going to be great.”