By T. D. Thornton
Tuesday's Maryland Racing Commission (MRC) meeting yielded the news that the state's horsemen, breeders, and the operator of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park have agreed on yet another six-month extension agreement to keep racing going after a 10-year deal expired at the end of 2022.
The placeholder agreement will go into effect for the final six months of 2023, and it follows a similar six-month extension reached earlier this year that is set to sunset June 30. The eventual goal is to come up with a longer-term contract.
Mike Rogers, the president of the racing division for 1/ST Racing, which owns the Maryland Jockey Club, which in turn owns both Pimlico and Laurel, led off his monthly presentation with the announcement of the agreement with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (MTHA) and Maryland Horse Breeders Association.
But when commissioner Robert Lillis asked Rogers to elaborate on a June 6 news story published in Maryland Matters that dealt with the MTHA agreeing to use purse money to subsidize operations at the two tracks, Rogers balked at answering.
“I don't think I'm at liberty to talk about the details of the extension agreement. I'm not authorized to talk about those terms,” Rogers said.
At that point, MRC chair Michael Algeo stepped in to clarify that he didn't feel the parties were required to disclose such details at this time, because the announcement of the agreement extension was not a matter that the commission had to act on or vote on that afternoon.
But another commissioner, George Mahoney, wanted to know, “At any stage, will the Maryland Racing Commission be privy to the terms of the six-month agreement?”
Rogers replied that, “I would have to defer to our lawyers on that. I don't know what the disclosure requirements are on that.”
Alan Foreman, an attorney who serves as the legal counsel for the MTHA, then offered to give an explanation from the horsemen's perspective.
“In fairness to all the parties, and in response to commissioner Lillis's question, the horsemen and the tracks and the breeders have been a party to a 10-year agreement that expired at the end of 2022 in which the horsemen and breeders [already] were helping to subsidize the operations of the racetracks,” Foreman said.
“That was no secret. That was the agreement entered into with the commission back [in] 2012 to stabilize the industry,” Foreman said.
“What the parties have done is to extend the [expired] agreement [from] January to June 30, and the extension now through Dec. 31 is under almost identical terms,” Foreman said.
“So there's nothing new here. It's what's been continuing since the beginning of the 10-year agreement, and ultimately, if and when there's a longer-term agreement, that issue will be addressed. So the so-called subsidy from the horsemen and breeders is not a new item,” Foreman said.
Algeo, a retired Maryland Circuit Court judge, then weighed in again.
“If I could kind of frame the issue so we make certain it's very clear, at this juncture this is not being presented today for the commission to motion, to rule on it, or to discuss,” he said.
“I mean, quite obviously, at least I'm not going to approve anything without knowing what's in the agreement,” Algeo said. “And so, we don't know what's in the agreement, so there's nothing for us to address.
“My understanding [is] that this is a courtesy on behalf of the Maryland Jockey Club and the horsemen and the breeders to indicate that they have extended it, which they have done, by the way, frequently… If it was required for us to approve that now, to address it, then obviously we would have to know the contents of the agreement.”