"Maryland Horsemen see a Horse Racing Renaissance" trumpets an article in the Washington Examiner regarding slots money 'pouring' in. Yep, reading the headline you would think all the horsemen in Maryland are tickled pink. That may be the case if you are a thoroughbred horseman; standardbred horsemen are a lot more guarded; especially when they don't know the status of Rosecroft Raceway after this year.
As you may recall, last year casino gambling was approved for Prince George County, home of Rosecroft Raceway which is operated by casino operator Penn National Gaming (oh, they race horses too). Rosecroft Raceway was purchased out of bankruptcy by PNG which is hoping to build a slot parlor there, making it known if they don't get a casino at Rosecroft, they will likely pull the plug on racing there. Unfortunately, the politically-connected are envisioning a casino opening at the National Harbor to be operated by MGM (there is a third bid as well) as if it is a foregone conclusion. Of course, this will be a fair and open process, correct?
Don't bet on it. There are those who feel the process of selecting a casino operator is merely a process of going through the motions. In fact, when the Executive Director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board is talking about the casino at National Harbor as a foregone conclusion, standardbred interests need to wonder how fair the vetting process is going to be. After all, the Maryland Horse Industry Board is to represent the entire equine industry in the state from racing breeds to pleasure horses. Unfortunately, standardbred representation on this board is somewhat lacking with only one of the eleven seats occupied by standardbred interests. Technically, only one seat is assigned to thoroughbred interests but when a consultant who has worked on the Preakness Stakes and other Maryland Jockey Club projects is given a seat representing organized shows and competitions, you have to wonder where the boards objectivity starts and ends. The last place this board wants to see a casino is at Rosecroft as it would mean divvying up the slot revenue with standardbred interests.
Purses at Rosecroft, while not phenomenal, aren't that bad with purses between $3,000-$7,000. Enough to keep the industry on life support. True there is racing on the Eastern Shore at Ocean Downs, but there is no secret Ocean Downs has no desire to extend their racing season. Purses also will be in the $2,800 to $7,000 level using the classified system, but racing three months a year does not make a stable industry.
While many would like the selection process to be merely a formality, standardbred interests in Maryland need to work with Penn National to make sure the process is fair and the projects are judged on their merits, not political connections. Otherwise, Penn National will be walked over with the standardbred industry possibly getting trampled at the same time.