Bill seeks ouster of racing panel chairman

Posted: 6:35 pm Mon, March 29, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Racing commission chairman John Franzone says he continues to serve because “the governor hasn’t appointed anyone else.”

The sponsor of a bill that proposes reorganizing the Maryland Racing Commission is asking the governor to immediately remove the chairman of the state’s governing body for horse racing and launch an investigation into the commission’s conduct.

Sen. Anthony C. Muse, D-Prince George’s, said that commission Chairman John Franzone has violated his term limit as by nearly a year, according to the Maryland Business Code, which allows two, consecutive one-year terms as chairman. Franzone was appointed chairman in 2007.

Muse is also asking that Franzone be removed from the commission immediately.

“His conduct and blatant disregard for the Maryland Business Code should immediately disqualify him from serving on the Maryland Racing Commission in any capacity,” Muse’s letter said. “I am at a loss as to how this situation has been allowed to happen when you consider the fact that Commission is served by staff and a Deputy Attorney General with more than 30 years of experience in the area of racing in the state. …”

Franzone said Monday he had not seen the letter but that his term as chairman will be up when Gov. Martin O’Malley names a replacement.

“The governor hasn’t appointed anyone else and that’s why I continue to serve,” he said.

He also noted that because of the uncertainty in the racing industry — slots parlor delays, track owners in bankruptcy — many believe having a stable commission is important.

“So I think the thought is, ‘OK let’s just keep it as it is because of that and leave it up to the governor,’” Franzone said.

Muse’s letter, dated March 26, is just the latest move in a push this legislative session to revive Rosecroft Raceway, a harness racing track in Prince George’s County. Muse said in the letter that his legislation, which would split the racing commission into two entities — one for the standardbred industry and one for the thoroughbred industry, is in part designed to save the raceway.

“I … believe there are some fine, well-intended commissioners currently serving,” said Muse, who is also asking for an investigation into the commission’s structure. “That is not the issue. The issue is now, and has been in the past that the standardbred industry is being discriminated against by this biased structure.”

According to Maryland code, the nine-person board should contain at least three representatives for each breed.

Last summer, three standardbred commissioners left and were replaced by one standardbred horse owner and a union representative for track laborers. A commissioner who has owned harness racing horses but now owns thoroughbreds was designated as the third representative.

Franzone said Monday the law states that commissioners have to “have knowledge of” the industry and discounted the argument that ownership makes commissioners biased toward the thoroughbred industry.

The balance of the board has been a complaint of standardbred industry in Maryland over the past year. The rift between the two breeds is also evident in a standstill over a cross-breed simulcast agreement for Rosecroft, which would reauthorize the track to take bets on thoroughbred races.

The racing commission voted to shut off Rosecroft’s signal last April. The track has not had live racing since 2008.

Muse’s bill (SB1051) proposing a racing commission for each breed and its counterpart legislation in the House (HB1517) were both heard in committees last week.

Muse is also sponsoring legislation (SB1035) with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, that could legalize poker rooms at Rosecroft. That legislation has passed in the Senate and is headed to the House.