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Lawmakers Approve Millions For Md. Racetracks

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horse racing

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland General Assembly sent a bill that provides millions of dollars in grants and loans to help horse racing tracks to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s desk for his signature Monday night.

House and Senate lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to lend up to $6 million to the Maryland Jockey Club and $1.2 million each to the owners of Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs, near Ocean City. It came in the last hours of the 2011 session.

The Jockey Club owns Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park. The funding depends on the club agreeing to simulcast races with Rosecroft Raceway.

The Maryland Racing Commission shut off a broadcast feed to Rosecroft a few days before the running of the Kentucky Derby in 2009. At the time, the track’s owners had not paid broadcasting fees.

O’Malley made saving horse racing a priority before the session started, but lawmakers criticized his lack of work throughout the session, saying that they ended up doing the “heavy lifting” on his priorities.

“We bailed him out big time,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, said of O’Malley shortly after the 2011 session ended.

Senators tinkering with the measure have worked continuously on the issue since late last week — giving it priority over many other issues left on the table. The issue of broadcasting live races and playing them at other tracks — or simulcasting — stirred last-minute debate.

Arbitration became the only way to get the Jockey Club and Rosecroft back in negotiations and reap gambling money which would help Maryland wean the racetracks off state aid, O’Malley lobbyist Joseph Bryce said Monday.

“I don’t have another way to get people to the table agreeing on this,” Bryce told senators Monday evening.

In last-minute negotiations, Senate Finance Chairman Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles, asked Bryce and Secretary of State John McDonough to redraft the bill so that the owners would mediate with the state before going to arbitration. He also asked for language that would keep Penn National Gaming from being a party on both sides of the negotiations.

Penn National is a minority owner of the Jockey Club and the new owner of Rosecroft.

“At some point we need a firm, fair and impartial arbitrator to settle these disputes,” said Gerry Evans, a lobbyist representing Penn National.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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