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Maryland is moving closer to the Pimlico-centric racing schedule

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The Maryland House of Representatives passed legislation on the night of April 8th that will return Maryland to racing Pimlico Racecourse.

HB 1524, the bill that would set the Pimlico Plus plan in motion, passed the House of Representatives on Monday evening by a vote of 105-32.

The House action, coupled with an earlier 41-6 vote in the Senate, represents the final legislative action on the bill, placing it on the desk of Gov. Wes Moore (Democrat). Since Moore is a supporter of the bill, he is expected to sign it.

The overall bill, along with a series of agreements its passage is expected to trigger, will reshape racing in Maryland. It will lead to the closure of Laurel Park, the revitalization of Pimlico Race Course and the acquisition of land for and construction of a training center. It will also end Maryland's tradition of private, for-profit ownership of racetracks; Replace this with a government-run, nonprofit model.

The law authorizes the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $400 million in bonds to support the project.

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The bill implements a plan developed by the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority that the General Assembly created last year to chart the best course for the future of Maryland racing. And it will trigger several agreements the authority says it has negotiated with the Stronach Group, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico.

Fear: Maryland plan attempts to take full advantage of Preakness

These include the transfer of Pimlico to the state for a nominal price of one dollar and an agreement that would see the MTROA pay the Stronach Group millions of dollars annually for the right to operate the Preakness Stakes (G1).

The passage of the law followed, as is somewhat traditional, a frantic sprint to the finish line. The bill easily passed the House on April 1, but a hearing in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on April 5 made it clear that many senators were concerned about certain aspects of the bill.

Senators, the governor's representatives and MTROA members worked throughout the weekend on a series of amendments that didn't exactly make senators happy—”a leap of faith,” as one senator called it—but that made them willing to vote for it.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (Democrat, Baltimore City) called the bill a “hot potato” when the Senate approved it, and hours later the House followed suit.

Plans call for the Preakness to be held in Laurel in 2026 while the new Pimlico is built, with the classic returning to Baltimore in 2027. The Stronach Group would then become the owner of the Laurel property and that route would be closed.

Frank Vespe writes for The Racing Biz. For more Mid-Atlantic racing coverage, visit theracingbiz.com.