Looking to breathe new life into improvements at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, Senate Bill 720 moved at blazing speed through the Maryland General Assembly. Among other things, the legislation creates the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority to oversee a new Maryland Racing Operations Fund.
The fund would jumpstart planned renovations at the two horse racing tracks owned by the Stronach Group. SB 720 flew through both houses of the General Assembly and now sits on the desk of Gov. Wes Moore. He is expected to sign it into law.
Nine-member board will develop new tracks in Maryland
Maryland is home to some of the nation’s most iconic horse racing tracks. That includes Pimlico, where the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, takes place each year. Horse betting in Maryland is not only popular at the half dozen tracks across the state, but also at several off-track betting sites.
SB 720 extends the Maryland Horse Racing Act for another 10 years. It expired on Dec. 31, 2022. Negotiations on it between the Maryland Jockey Club, Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) and Maryland Horse Breeders Association (MHBA) were extended until June 30.
Next, the legislation creates a nine-member body to oversee the development of racing and training facilities in the state. After years of intense disputes between the state and the Stronach Group under the 2020 Racing and Community Development Act, the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority (MTROA) will work with the Maryland Stadium Authority to push renovations at Pimlico and Laurel Park past the finish line.
Finally, SB 720 transfers money from the Racing and Community Development Facilities fund into a new Maryland Racing Operations Fund managed by the MTROA. The MTROA will use the money to create more racing facilities in Maryland.
SB 720 gives the state the power to jumpstart negotiations on renovations
There’s no question that the top reason for SB 720 is to give the state authority to restart negotiations with the Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico and Laurel. Plans to authorize bonds to pay for improvements have been delayed, which has driven up costs significantly.
In 2020, the Racing and Community Development Act opened up $375 million in bonds to fund renovations at Pimlico and Laurel Park. The delay of bond sales and rising interest rates since then have pushed redevelopment costs past an estimated $600 million or more.
Alan Foreman, general counsel for the MTHA, told The Racing Biz that lawmakers are fed up with delays.
“I think we’re all impatient. The Legislature thought this project was going to start two years ago. It hasn’t started. There are numerous challenges that we’re working on.”
There have been many rumors that the Stronach Group is interested in moving the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico to Laurel, a move that has been continually halted by legislators. Rumblings that the Stronach Group could exit Maryland racing altogether have also not gone unnoticed. SB 720 would give the state the authority to move in and support any new owners if that happened.
Alan Rifkin, who represents the Stronach Group, added that delays have frustrated the owners as well.
“We all have a sense of impatience. There’s an element of frustration because factors outside of our control had and have an impact on this project.”
MTROA will include members the governor appoints
This nine-person MTROA will have professionals throughout the horse racing industry.
The governor will appoint one member each from the MTHA and MHBA. He will also appoint three others with relevant experience in the industry, the government or from business. The rest of the committee will include the chair or executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, the chair or executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corporation and two members appointed by the House speaker and the Senate president.
Also, there will be four non-voting members. They will be three community representatives and a member of the Maryland Racing Commission.