House consideration of Pimlico Plus bill delayed a day

House of Delegates consideration of legislation to kick the “Pimlico Plus” project into gear was delayed from Thursday until Friday, at the earliest, after a Republican lawmaker from St. Mary’s County requested a pause.

“This looks like a very complicated bill,” said Del. Matthew Morgan. “I mean, it has $400 million in the fiscal note. This is a session where we’ve raised record amounts of taxes. Would it be possible that we hold the bill until tomorrow?”

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, acceded to the request. Her committee approved the bill on an 18-4 vote Wednesday.

The legislation, HB 1524, would authorize the issuance of up to $400 million in bonds to support the renovation of Pimlico Race Course along with the purchase of land for and construction of a new training center. It would also enable the creation of a nonprofit entity to manage the state’s racing on behalf of the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority (MTROA).

Amendments adopted by the Ways and Means Committee Wednesday would, among other things, permit the Governor to transfer up to $10 million from Racing and Community Development Fund to provide working capital for the MTROA or its nonprofit designee.

With support from Gov. Wes Moore (D) in a state in which Democrats have a strong edge, the bill has been widely seen as a slam dunk. But it’s run into perhaps unexpected headwinds, as standardbred interests, angered at a provision which would shift facilities moneys originally targeted for Rosecroft Raceway to debt service for the bonds, have fought back.

At a March 19 hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, a panel including representatives from Ocean Downs, the Berlin, MD harness and gaming facility, and the state’s harness breeders and owners, urged the panel to spike the legislation. More than a half-dozen people are registered as lobbyists on behalf of standardbred interests, though that number is smaller than those lobbying for the Thoroughbred industry.

To become law, the legislation must pass both the House and Senate in identical form before heading to Gov. Moore for his signature. The Senate has not yet considered the bill; the 2024 legislative session ends April 8.