Md. tracks losing millions, ask for extended subsidy

Track operators used unaudited financial statements Tuesday as fuel for their argument for a state subsidy beyond the 2010 racing season.-Maryland Jockey Club, Jim McCue via AP
Maryland's thoroughbred racetracks lost record amounts of money in 2008 and 2009, in a sign that even the coveted Preakness Stakes is no longer enough to hold the state's racing industry together.

Track operators used unaudited financial statements Tuesday as fuel for their argument for a state subsidy beyond the 2010 racing season, despite the fact that the Maryland Jockey Club's owners spent millions of dollars over the last two years fighting several legal battles.

When asked if the tracks would have been in the black if not for the expensive legal battles the club has waged in its attempt to get slots at Laurel Park, Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas said the financial situation was dire.

"The fact of the matter is ... in 2008 we lost $[12] million and in 2009 it was $14 million," Chuckas said. "Even deducting all the efforts for gaming and related causes, you're still in the $7 [million] to $9 million loss from operations."

Racetracks in the red
Preakness Stakes not enough to hold industry.

Laurel Pimlico Total
2007 earnings -$4.3 million $1.8 million -$2.5 million
2008 earnings -$11 million -$902,000 -$11.9 million
2009 earnings -$11.5 million -$2.6 million -$14.1 million
Source: Maryland Jockey Club unaudited financial statements

Most of the losses are attributed to Laurel Park, which has been losing money for the better part of the last decade. But the two years marked the first time Pimlico Race Course lost money, even as total wagering on Preakness day in 2009 increased by 9 percent to $86.6 million compared with the 2008 race day.

Financial statements for 2010 are expected by the end of this month.

Chuckas and other racing supporters testified Tuesday before a Maryland House of Delegates committee for a bill that would extend by three years an operational subsidy for the thoroughbred tracks and two harness racing tracks.

The proposed legislation, which has a companion bill in the Senate, would divert most of the racetrack renewal fund -- 2.5 percent of all annual slots revenue -- to track operations through 2014.

The state's two harness tracks would receive $1.2 million each from a different slots fund.

Late last year, Gov. Martin O'Malley and the racetrack owners brokered a deal that reallocated $3.6 million from a state slots fund reserved for racetrack renovations to the tracks for operations. Maryland horsemen's groups also agreed to provide $1.7 million. The agreement saved the 2011 racing season from a shutdown.

The jockey club has trimmed its budget and expects to break even this year. But as racing declines nationally -- wagering totals have fallen annually -- and with the Arundel Mills casino expected to draw away business, Chuckas said the tracks need help beyond this season.