By TOM LoBIANCO
The Associated Press
12:00 AM EDT, March 29, 2011
Maryland’s race tracks moveda step closer to securing state subsidies Monday, but House lawmakers want them to submit business plans and open their books to a state panel.
The House of Delegates advanced a bill that would allow the state’s five horse racing tracks to transfer state money dedicated to capital improvements to instead cover day-to-day operating costs. The money would be deferred from the state’s slots proceeds.
Meanwhile, Maryland senators voted 45-0 to give more money to anyone willing to run slot machines at the Rocky Gap Resort in Western Maryland, as well as buy the ailing resort — which cost the state $3.8 million last year and has a total debt of $48 million.
The proposal would attempt to lure a slots operator to Western Maryland by waiving the multi-million dollar licensing fee paid to the state and giving them a better slice of the proceeds. Maryland’s three slots operators currently keep 33 percent of the proceeds and pay the rest to the state, whoever bids on the Rocky Gap license would be allowed to keep 50 percent of the earnings for 10 years under the Senate measure. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.
The race tracks bill stems from a deal brokered by Gov. Martin O’Malley before the 2011 legislative session opened in January after track owners said they were not making enough money to run races this year. The compromise called for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to kick in $1.7 million for the operation of the Maryland Jockey Club — which runs Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course — in addition to the state’s aid.
The proposal the House approved Monday would allow tracks to divert money otherwise slated for improvements to their facilities to run races — including up to $6 million Laurel and Pimlico and $1.2 million each for Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs.
“Any time the chief executive of this state is put over a barrel by an industry we’re going to be requested to support that industry,” said House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert.
But supporters said the House plan is hardly a “rubber stamp” of the governor’s proposal.
“What you will see in this bill is more oversight than you have ever seen before,” said Delegate Frank Turner, D-Howard, chairman of the House subcommittee which initially approved the measure.
The House plan would establish a nine-member board to oversee financial operations and review annual reports submitted by the state’s race tracks. It would also mandate the companies file a 5-year business plan with the state.
Senate votes to allow direct wine-shipping
A measure that allows wineries to ship directly to Maryland residents has passed the state Senate.
The Senate voted 45-0 on Monday night in favor of the legislation. The House of Delegates approved a similar bill on Saturday.
Thirty-six other states allow direct wine-shipping. Efforts to let wine enthusiasts get their favorite vintages delivered directly have failed in Maryland over the last two years.
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