Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Forget That Tarnished Crown!

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has signed into law several measures designed to keep the state from losing the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. The new laws would allow Maryland to hold onto both Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness race itself through the power of eminent domain, in the event a new owner wanted to take the race out of the state.

Thankfully, these legal moves are not, so far, costing the state any money. But if future actions force the state to take actual ownership, and tax dollars are used to save this broken-down business, then this taxpayer. for one, is going to scream!

Have you ever been to Pimlico, or even to Laurel? I've been to both - I enjoy going to the track with my friend, Mitch, about once a year. Let me tell you... Both tracks - but especially Pimlico - are dirty, depressing holes... with shuttered concession stands and betting booths that are ancient reminders of a sport that has already died a thousand deaths. When we go to the track, we sit with a few dozen others in grandstands that can seat thousands of people - and do just one day a year - on Preakness day.

Horse racing is already dead in Maryland. Not even the passage of a law allowing slot machines is going to save it. But memories and nostalgia are powerful drugs that have a particularly strong affect on politicians. Lawmakers in Annapolis see the rescue of the Preakness as one easy win that they can deliver to their constituents in a year when there are no easy wins elsewhere.

Saving the Preakness is not going to solve anything. It will not make the state more attractive to the horse racing industry. The racing business has been pulling up stakes and moving out for years to places like Delaware, which brought in slots years ago to pump more money into stables and infrastructure. Pimlico will simply become another road venue for horses and trainers who come in from out of town, run their race and then move on to Belmont.

It's not at all clear if this eminent domain move is legal, or even whether its necessary. But at a time when Maryland has more important industries to protect, we need to be prepared to let "Ol' Paint" go to the glue factory.

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