O’Malley slams Anne Arundel County for slots inaction

Daily Record Business Writer
August 6, 2009 7:33 PM

Gov. Martin O’Malley told nearly 250 people at the Maryland Horse Forum that the Anne Arundel County Council’s failure to vote on a slots facility is delaying progress in the horse industry.UPPER MARLBORO — In a speech to the Maryland horse industry Thursday, a frustrated Gov. Martin O’Malley said industry progress is being stalled by the Anne Arundel County Council.

The council has delayed a zoning vote several times that would allow a slot machine at Arundel Mills mall and is not expected to vote until the fall — after the state has awarded the first slot machine licenses elsewhere.

“The Anne Arundel County Council needs to make a decision so we can move forward,” O’Malley said, pounding the podium. “The legislature has made its decision, the voters have made their decision, now Anne Arundel County needs to make a decision.”

The governor was the keynote speaker at the Maryland Horse Forum held at Upper Marlboro’s Show Place Arena. The forum was attended by about 250 people in the racing, recreational and breeding side of the industry, as well as state officials.

In the question-and-answer session after his speech, O’Malley confirmed that the three other sites designated for slots in the state that received licensee applications were moving forward. But the site in Anne Arundel County, which allots for nearly 5,000 slot machines, is by far the largest designation in the state and potentially the biggest revenue generator.

Much of the discussion at the horse forum, the first one since 2004, revolved around how to better promote the $1.6 billion industry and all its facets — not just the racing side — and what the future can hold for the industry here.

Many people pointed out the age of Maryland’s tracks — one participant likened their appearance to methadone clinics — and the need to market to people in their 20s and 30s. Movie theaters, shopping malls, open-air markets and other ideas were suggested as ways to make tracks destinations and entertainment centers.

Others pointed out the need for better advertising of what the tracks offer, making them more user-friendly and making customer service a priority. If racing is the sport of kings, the customers should be coddled and treated like royalty, they said.

“In every sporting event, the cornerstone of the event is the fan,” said Tom Bowman, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. “What we haven’t done for years and years is we haven’t cultivated our fan base.”

On the non-racing side of the industry, O’Malley pointed out progress has been made in the past year with the passage of legislation sponsored by Del. Virginia P. Clagett, D-Anne Arundel, that designated land used for equestrian activities as agricultural land. The legislation can protect farms from rezoning efforts.

Unlike the racing side, which for the most part has to wait on slots revenue until it can fund any major track marketing or revitalization initiatives, the agricultural side of the business faces different issues.

Del. J.B. Jennings, R-Harford and Baltimore counties, pointed out the need for educating the public as to why preserving land for the horse industry is important to everyone in the state — not just horse owners.

About 685,000 acres (or 10 percent of Maryland land) are related to the horse industry, according to the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

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