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Maryland's horse industry reaches deal to preserve racing

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

The Maryland horse-racing industry is back in the saddle after reaching a 10-year deal to preserve live racing in the state.

The agreement reached by the Maryland Jockey Club, Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association guarantees a minimum of 100 race days a year at Laurel Park and Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes, the second race in the Triple Crown.

There will be 146 race days in 2013 -- the same number as the past three years -- pending approval by the Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday.

"This is an historic moment for the Maryland racing community and the dawn of a new era. The years of uncertainty and strife are over," said Alan Foreman, a lawyer for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "For those who left Maryland for greener pastures, I think you will find that Maryland will soon become the centerpiece of racing in the mid-Atlantic."

The tracks receive millions of dollars in gambling revenue from the state's casinos, and their intake is expected to rise as the state allows table games and adds three more casinos over the next four years. While the industry originally received 2.5 percent of revenue, that has since been reduced to 1.75 percent and will drop to 1 percent when Caesars Entertainment opens a casino in Baltimore in 2014.

Laurel Park and Pimlico will stay open year-round for racing, training and stabling and will each keep a minimum of 1,900 stalls. Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas said the club would be submitting a plan to improve both tracks to the Maryland Racing Commission and the Maryland Department of Budget and Management in February.

At the end of 2010, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley brokered a short-term deal to keep the flagging industry afloat with the help of slots revenue. "Today is a great day for Maryland's racing industry," O'Malley said.

There was a push to bring slots to Laurel Park two years ago, but the license was instead awarded to the Cordish Cos. to build Maryland Live! Casino. That casino, 10 miles from Laurel, opened in June.

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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