Racing Comm. Speaks Up For Downs

BERLIN – While the statewide referendum on legalizing slots in Maryland is still eight months away, supporters and detractors are already heating up the rhetoric including the Maryland Racing Commission.

The Maryland Racing Commission on Wednesday released a two-page official statement encouraging the state to place slot machine venues at Ocean Downs in Worcester County and Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County, citing the potential benefits for the state’s ailing horse racing industry. While the bill passed by state lawmakers during a special session last fall described five potential locations for slots across Maryland, only two call for placing slots venues at racetracks.

“Only two of the five specified locations, Anne Arundel County within two miles of Md. Route 295 and Worcester County, within one mile of the intersection of Routes 50 and 589, encompass areas in which a racetrack facility conducting live racing is located – Laurel Park and Ocean Downs respectively,” the statement reads.

During the General Assembly special session last fall, state lawmakers passed legislation allowing the voters of Maryland to decide the slots issue once and for all in a statewide referendum next November. Voters will decide whether to amend the state’s constitution to allow as many as 15,000 slot machines, or video lottery terminals (VLTs), at five locations spelled out in the bill including 2,500 at Ocean Downs in Worcester County.

Other proposed locations include Anne Arundel County with 4,750 slot machines, Baltimore City with 3,750, Cecil County with 2,500 and Alleghany County with 1,500.

Successful bidders will have to pay an initial license fee of at least $3 million per 500 machines and another $25 million per 500 machines in direct investment and improvements. While the commission is aware of the stringent bidding process, it made a strong push for Ocean Downs and Laurel Park in its official statement this week.

“Presuming these bidding requirements are satisfied, the Maryland Racing Commission strongly encourages and supports the placement of VLTs at the two existing racetrack facilities which otherwise qualify- Laurel Park and Ocean Downs,” the statement reads. “The Maryland Racing Commission respectively submits that of the five locations for VLT operation licenses in the state, only Ocean Downs and Laurel Park provide the opportunity for VLTs and live horse racing to be juxtaposed and to symbiotically co-exist, and should, therefore, be granted such licensure.”