Racing and Community Development Act, sports betting pass General Assembly

The Racing and Community Development Act of 2020, which authorizes financing for the rebuild of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, cleared the Maryland General Assembly March 18—the final day of an abbreviated session—and goes to Gov. Larry Hogan for consideration.

The legislation calls for the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $375 million in bonds for the project through a combination of funds from the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account, the Purse Dedication Account, video lottery terminal payments to Baltimore City and money from the Maryland Lottery. The Act would take effect June 1 of this year.

The final version of the bill (Senate Bill 987) resulted from an agreement among members of a joint conference committee that hammered out a resolution in the final days of the session, which was cut short by several weeks because of coronavirus (COVID-19). The key financial aspects of the plan weren't changed during the back-and-forth between the House and Senate.

The measure had strong support from the outset—House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones and Guy Guzzone, who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee—were the initial sponsors. The House passed the conference committee version of the bill by a vote of 113-14 a short while after the Senate voted 44-1 to approve it.

The Racing Community and Development Act of 2020 was largely designed beginning last summer after an effort that would have moved all racing—including the Preakness Stakes—to a rebuilt Laurel and eventually closed Pimlico was largely rejected by Baltimore officials and lawmakers at large. The plan was released early last fall after roughly three months of consultation and study.

"A lot of people put a lot of energy into this," Guzzone said before the Senate vote. "I'm appreciative of all who were involved in this."

Though it has been stated repeatedly that the Laurel project, which includes plans for a new barn area, would go first, the rest of the timeline remains undecided. Much of it will depend on the work of the MSA after the effective date of the legislation.

In another matter, the General Assembly March 18 also passed sports betting legislation, though more than 20 pages outlining implementation, eligible licensees, fees and tax rates were stripped from the final version. The Senate ended up passing an amended House version of Senate Bill 4 that authorizes a constitutional amendment ballot question in the November 2020 general election.

Given disagreement over some of the details, the Senate opted to at least get the question on the ballot as soon as possible. The next opportunity would have been 2022.

"We'll have to deal with implementation at another date," Guzzone said. "The House will not agree with the implementation (in the Senate bill). If we're back before (January 2021), we could figure it out then."

Legislative leaders said they plan to hold a special session in late May to wrap up loose ends and handle veto votes, but it remains to be seen whether sports betting details would be part of the short session.

The Senate initially passed the bill by a vote of 45-0 and by the same vote March 18. The House passed the legislation March 17 by a vote of 129-3. The measure goes to Hogan for consideration.

The earlier version listed most racetracks, all casinos and four non-casino off-track betting facilities as eligible for sports betting licenses, and it also authorized mobile betting and nine "skins" that would be open to interested parties. The state tax rate on net proceeds was 20%.

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