Dec 23 2010

In Maryland, a Christmas reprieve

In the greatest of all non-Biblical Christmas tales, Ebeneezer Scrooge’s diamond-hard heart is melted by troubling visions of his past and, grimly, his lonely future.  In a word, his is a story of redemption.

Scrooge, however, isn’t the first character in the story brought back from the brink.

Earlier, the corrupt Mr. Jorking, one of the directors of the Amalgamated Mercantile Society, faces possible prosecution because he is, as another director observes, “not only a bankrupt but an embezzler of the company’s funds.”  Scrooge and his business partner, Jacob Marley, propose a deal which saves Jorking’s hide while enabling Scrooge and Marley to gain control of the company.

The flip, cynical, and self-aware Jorking exclaims, “Reprieved!  Curfew shall not ring tonight.”

This difference between redemption and reprieve is the difference between a new lease on life and a little more time.  One is epiphantic, the other, merely a relief.

What Maryland racing received yesterday (read it here) was, in the form of an intervention by the Governor’s office, a reprieve.  At Tuesday’s acrimonious meeting, Commissioner John McDaniel exasperatedly told representatives of Penn National, part owners of the tracks, that they had “antagonized everyone in the state” with their “arrogant ways.”   On Wednesday, those same track owners dropped several poison pill proposals and agreed to a 146-day racing schedule in return for $1.7 million from the horsemen and a loan, against slots revenues, from the state.

Curfew, indeed, shall not ring tonight.

Make no mistake, however.  No one in Maryland is, as Scrooge later was, “giddy as a drunken man.”  That’s because real challenges remain.  The relationship between the horsemen and the combined Magna-Penn National entity that owns the tracks seemingly puts the “fun” in dysfunctional.  While the financial situation of the tracks is nowhere near as dire as they like to portray it — they were profitable through 2007 — they nevertheless have been taking on water the last couple of years.  And both horsemen’s reps and members of the Commission pointedly called for new ownership of the racetracks at Tuesday’s meeting — calls that met with loud approval from the 400 or so in attendance.

This morning at 4:00 a.m. or so, hundreds of backstretch workers emerged from their dorms to do what they do: pamper the horses who are the stars of the show.  On New Year’s Day, racing will go on as usual.  For another year, both workers and horses have jobs.

Maryland racing gained a reprieve.  Redemption, however, remains distant and elusive.

Still, for several hundred people who would otherwise be out of work, reprieve means a merry Christmas and provides that most valuable of all racing currencies: hope.  And here’s a hope that a year from now, reprieve will have become redemption, and some sorf of equine world Tiny Tim will observe, “God bless us — every one.”

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  1. John S.

    Let’s have a wish list for Maryland racing. Any ideas?

  2. admin

    Many, but here’s one: the return of the Pimlico Special (and the LRL Futurity and the Selima).

  3. Steve Zorn

    It’s only a one-year reprieve, and, taken together with Frank Stronach’s sweetheart deal to get control of the tracks from MI Developments, bodes ill for the future. Rather than throw away more state money, Gov. O’Malley should be actively seeking a white knight to take over the tracks.

  4. whobet

    We need new owners,

    these current guys just want slots money,

    PENN will try for the next year to get slots,

    and if that fails the same Sh*t we just went through at the end of the year will occur at the end of the year,2011,

    Throw these guys out,
    they have proved they can’t run these tracks,

    there are people out there who will buy out there positions,

    get rid of MID, PENN, FRANK

  5. Frankie Conditions

    All so true. Penn has made their position clear, give us slots at the track “or else” ! Given the “inflow” of slots money in the state albeit not at the track, purses should immediately be raised. If they don’t like the conditions (the though they could get slots away from Cordisch and The Mall, which is the only reason the bought in) then sell to someone that wants to and can operate race tracks.
    How about Marketing this product ? Nascar, Poker, etc. draws customers to their forms of entertainment. Racing can to if done well with a long term plan not just doing something for 1 year and letting it by time.
    The Governor did the right thing now he should expect Penn and MID to do the same.

  6. Phil Schoenthal

    Correct, we are just setting ourselves up for the same drama next year.

    If nothing else, Magna/Penn will cling to the state subsidy from slots revenue every year as necessary “or else.” Basically, to me it assures Magna/Penn from ever having to lose money owing the tracks again, and thus, never a need to sell it.

    I guess the state just figures it’s easier to give them the slot revenue for facility improvements to prop up the bottom line than risk having to step in and actually seize control or force them out. Politics at its best.

    In the meantime, at least it gives the horsemen (or at least me) a year of breathing room to figure out what other state is best to move to and start again.

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