Maryland horse industry seeks fortune in other slot-friendlier states
On the eve of the Preakness, the Post's Ian Shapira takes a look at the trickle-down from the doldrums at Maryland's racing tracks and the foundering attempt to broaden gambling in the state.
CHESAPEAKE CITY, MD. -- Here at Northview Stallion Station's padded breeding shed, the farm's top sire, Not For Love, once serviced about 100 mares a year. Nowadays, there's only enough business for the aging stud to mount about 60 a year. Desperate to revive their fading fortunes, the Maryland farm's owners last year opened a second breeding center in rival Pennsylvania -- a state where a churning river of slot machine revenue buoys the local horse economy.
"If we can get slots up and running in Maryland, we'll be able to attract new, young stallions," said Northview co-owner Tom Bowman, watching a broodmare clad in booties and his 20-year-old stallion squeal and neigh. "But, right now . . . we are struggling to stay alive because people think, 'Where's the action? It's not in Maryland. It's in Pennsylvania.' "
Tomorrow's running of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore serves as an annual reminder of Maryland's historically lofty perch in the equine hierarchy. But behind the nationally televised Triple Crown race, Maryland's horse industry is collapsing. Local breeders, frustrated by the unmet promise that slot machines would rescue their industry, are taking their business to slots-rich states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.
In the past decade, Maryland governors of both political parties touted slot machines as the answer to the state's dwindling horse fortunes. After years of political combat, voters in 2008 approved a plan to build slots parlors at five locations, with the expectation of raising $100 million per year in higher racing purses and $660 million annually for education.
But the slots casinos have not arrived. The two biggest facilities -- one slated for Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the other at Anne Arundel Mills mall -- are mired in financial, political or legal problems. A third slots casino proposed for the Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort in western Maryland has drawn no developer. A fourth parlor was to open Memorial Day weekend at Ocean Downs Racetrack on the Eastern Shore, but problems with asbestos have delaying its opening until at least year's end. Only a 1,500-machine casino in rural Cecil County has a scheduled opening, in the fall.
Christopher Dean Hopkins
May 14, 2010; 2:51 PM ET
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