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Minutes of Public Meeting - May 28, 2020

Commission Members Present:

Michael Algeo
Emmet Davitt
David Hayden
Thomas Bowman
Ernie Grecco
Clarissa Coughlin
Konrad Wayson
Tammy Lafferty
Tom Winebrener

Members Absent:

Staff Present Representing the Maryland Racing Commission:

J. Michael Hopkins

Executive Director
Eric B. London
Assistant Attorney General

In accordance with §3-302, General Provisions Article, Annotated Code of Maryland, the Maryland Racing Commission (“Commission”) met by conference call in open session on May 28, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. Prior to the meeting, Chairman Mike Algeo informed the public that they should mute their phones, but he would give them the opportunity to address the Commission during Public Comments. At the start of the meeting, Chairman Algeo took a roll call of the Commission members and verified that all members were present and asked everyone to take a moment of silence for all those who lost their lives to the pandemic. In addition, Chairman Algeo wished Commissioner Tom Winebrener a Happy Birthday.

Minutes – April 23, 2020

The Commission waived a reading of the minutes of its April 23, 2020 meeting and voted unanimously to approve the minutes.   

Maryland Standardbred Race Fund Advisory.

Executive Director J. Michael Hopkins informed the Commission that Commissioner Tammy Lafferty agreed to serve as Chair of the Advisory Committee for the ensuing year and that Ocean Downs had nominated Bobbi Sample to represent Ocean Downs on the Committee. Commissioner Winebrener made a motion to approve the nominations, which was seconded by Commissioner David Hayden. The Commission unanimously approved the nominations.

Maryland Bred Race Fund Advisory Committee.

Executive Director J. Michael Hopkins informed the Commission that Commissioner David Hayden agreed to serve as Chair of the Advisory Committee for the ensuing year. The Maryland State Fair nominated Richie Blue, the Maryland Jockey Club nominated Georganne Hale and the Maryland Horses Breeders nominated David Wade and Dr. Michael Harrison to serve on the Committee. Alan Foreman representing the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) commented that the horsemen and breeders had agreed that a representative of the MTHA would also serve on the Committee and nominated Tim Keefe. The Commission unanimously approved the nominations to the Advisory Committee.

Medication Violations-Penalties.

Executive Director J. Michael Hopkins explained to the Commission that earlier in the year the Commission had adopted lower thresholds for the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, specifically phenylbutazone, flunixin and ketoprofen. Prior to the adoption of these lower thresholds, penalties for an overage were graduated from a warning to a disqualification and suspension. Mr. Hopkins further explained that the new thresholds were adopted to protect the safety and welfare of horses and allows a pre-race inspection of a horse to be conducted while not under the influence of a particular medication.  Having participated in a number of conference calls with the Mid-Atlantic region, Mr. Hopkins explained that it was recommended that any Class 4 medication, which was categorized with a Class C penalty (which these drugs are classified), requires a disqualification of any horse found in violation of the threshold. The Commission voted unanimously to adopt the recommendation.

Mid-Atlantic Region Update -Alan Foreman.

Alan Foreman reported to the Commission that over the last several weeks the Mid-Atlantic region has been working on a number of initiatives through subcommittees to develop and enhance the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan, which is directed to improve the safety and welfare of horses. Those committees have developed a best practices manual, which includes the transfer of medical records of claimed horses, continuing education requirements for trainers to be effective January 1, 2021, bio-security, restricted medications, shock wave therapy, regulating thyroid medication, risk factors, layoff reports for a horse that has not run for 150 days or more and a review of the use of a riding crop during a race, which is still under review. Commissioner Ernie Grecco thanked Mr. Foreman for the work that was being done in the Mid-Atlantic region and made a motion recognize the region giving all the individuals involved credit for the work and dedication to the safety and welfare of horses. Commissioner Clarissa Coughlin seconded the motion and the Commission unanimously approved it.

Ocean Downs Race Dates.

The Commission was provided with a letter from Bobbi Sample representing Ocean Downs requesting live race dates for its summer meeting beginning July 6, 2020 and ending on September 19, 2020, encompassing 40 days of live racing. Ms. Sample qualified her request in the letter by stating that Ocean Downs was making the request based on racing beginning after July 1, 2020.  She noted that pending actual conditions and guidance from the Governor’s Office, the request could be modified.  The delay in starting and the reduced number of days are attributable to the limited purse funds available due to COVID19. Ocean Downs plan to offer training and qualifiers during the last week of June and the first week of July, with qualifiers throughout the race meeting. The exact dates for qualifiers will be determined by the Governor’s timeline. The Commission thanked Ms. Sample and unanimously approved the request.

Legislative Update.

Executive Director J. Michael Hopkins provide the Commission with an outline of the requirements of SB 987 and how the legislation would impact the Commission’s operations. Mr. Hopkins commented that the legislation required the Commission to establish a safety and welfare committee comprised of industry representatives. The Committee would serve as an Advisory Committee to the Commission in matters relating to the health, safety and welfare of horses engaged in training and racing and report to the Commission for changes to rules, regulations, laws or conditions of racing. Mr. Hopkins informed the Commission that he would have a list of the Committee members for the Commission at its next meeting.

Maryland Jockey Club – Capital Improvement Plan and Racing Facility Redevelopment Fund.

Executive Director J. Michael Hopkins stated that the Racing and Community Development Act of 2020 (Senate Bill 987) requires racing licensees to update their multi-year capital plans in order to be eligible for RFRA reimbursements.  He further explained that the legislation expressly requires the identification of “Capital improvement and expenditures made on or after January 1, 2018” and that a licensee update its master plan prior to making a request for RFRA reimbursement.

Mr. Hopkins advised the Commission that in documentation sent to the Commission on May 13, 2020, the MJC submitted an updated Master Capital Improvement Plan, which was previously sent to all Commission members. Mr. Hopkins stated that on May 21, 2020, the MJC supplemented their original submission with a letter giving further explanation as to their Master Capital Improvement Plan.  This letter was also sent to the Commission. In the updated Master Plan, the MJC has one part of the Plan dedicated to the new Laurel and Pimlico projects; and a second part for prior and current projects from January 2018 through the second quarter of 2020.  Mr. Hopkins stated that the two letters would be made part of the minutes.

Mr. Hopkins explained that although an estimated 33 million dollars will have been spent by the MJC on projects at Laurel and Pimlico (with roughly a 1/3 of that at Pimlico) from 2018 through the second quarter of 2020, the letter from the MJC indicated that at a future time, the MJC will only be seeking 2.243 million dollars of RFRA reimbursement, for capital improvements that will be used even after the projects begin at Laurel and Pimlico. Mr. Hopkins explained that the MJC is authorized by Senate Bill 987 to seek partial reimbursements for capital expenditures from 2018 through second quarter of 2020.

Mr. Hopkins explained that the Capital Plan for projects since 2018 included the following:

  1. Starting Chute Retaining Wall at Laurel- $324,000.00
  2. Truck and Tractors at Laurel -$1.462,000.00
  3. Infield Chalet and Infrastructure at Pimlico- $1.591,000.00
  4. Ambulance at Laurel-  $240,000.00
  5. New Water Main at Pimlico- $869,000.00

Mr. Hopkins explained that the MJC is not asking for RFRA reimbursement until a later date.  Instead, the MJC is asking for the Commission to encumber 2.243 million dollars in accordance with Senate Bill 987, which is half the amount spent for the above 5 line items.

Mr. Hopkins further explained that assuming the Commission approves the Capital Improvement Plan, at a later time, the MJC will be eligible to make a RFRA request for the 5 line items. The request will then be sent to the Commission’s CPA to see whether or not the requests qualify as a capital improvement and are eligible for RFRA reimbursement. If the expenses are qualified as capital improvements by the CPA, Mr. Hopkins explained the Commission then will bring to a vote as to whether to reimburse the MJC. 

Mr. Hopkins then read aloud the provision of Senate Bill 987 that related to RFRA:

(b) (1) On or before June 15, 2020, the State Racing Commission shall notify the Comptroller of the amount of anticipated requests for reimbursement under the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account under § 9–1A–29 of the State Government Article, as those provisions existed and were applicable before the effective date of this Act. 

(2) Before making a request for reimbursement from the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account, a licensee that previously filed a master plan under § 9–1A–09(b) of the State Government Article shall update the licensee’s master plan in accordance with the provisions of § 9–1A–09(b)(2)(ii) of the State Government Article, as enacted by Section 1 of this Act. 

(3) The Comptroller shall encumber the amount identified under paragraph (1) of this subsection. 

(4) On or before December 31, 2020, the State Racing Commission shall approve or deny the requests for reimbursement that meet the requirements of the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account as those requirements existed and were applicable before the effective date of this Act from mile thoroughbred licensees. 

(5) Any funds not disbursed for eligible requests from mile thoroughbred licensees as of December 31, 2020, shall be transferred to the Racing and Community Development Facilities Fund established under § 10–657.3 of the Economic Development 30 Article, as enacted by Section 1 of this Act. 

Maryland Jockey Club representative Doug Illig explained that the five items in the capital plan that the MJC would be seeking RFRA reimbursement all met the criteria outlined in the regulations as qualified capital expenditures. Commissioner Tom Bowman expressed his concern over the trucks and tractors and Commissioner David Hayden expressed concern oved the Chalet expense at Pimlico, as the Chalet is not in the long-term plans. Mr. Hopkins reminded the Commission members that these items still needed to be reviewed by the Commission’s Certified Public Accountant and that the request before them was not to approve these specific items for reimbursement, but only to encumber the funds, should they pass the MJC’s capital plan. Mr. Hopkins explained that the Commission was only to consider the updated capital plan and the request to encumber the $2,243,000.00.

Chairman Algeo asked Assistant Attorney General Eric London, counsel to the Commission, if encumbering $2,243,000.00 is authorized by SB 987 and would still allow the Commission to transfer the remaining $25,487,000.00 in the Racing Facility Redevelopment Account to the Racing and Community Development Facilities Fund. Assistant Attorney General Eric London explained that the legislature clearly carved out the ability of the Commission to encumber funds from the Racing Facility Redevelopment Account from January 1, 2018 through the second quarter of 2020.  Mr. London opined that assuming the Capital Plan is approved by the Commission, the Commission could then encumber the $2,243,000.00, provided that (1) expenditures in the amount of $4,486,000.00 are consistent with the plan; and (2) the expenditures constitute capital expenditures, as determined by the Commission’s Certified Public Accountant. Further, Mr. London advised that the remaining RFRA funds could then be transferred to the Racing and Community Development Facilities Fund.

Chairman Algeo then asked for a motion to approve the Capital Plan; Commissioner Davitt made a motion to approve the plan which was seconded by Commissioner Konrad Wayson. The Commission unanimously approved the plan. Consequently, chairman Algeo ask for a motion to encumber the $2,243,000.00. Commissioner Wayson made the motion to encumber the funds and was seconded by Commissioner Winebrener. Consequently, the Commission unanimously approved the motion.

Maryland Jockey Club Update.

Executive Director J. Michael Hopkins informed the Commission that he had received a request from the Maryland Jockey Club two days prior to the meeting regarding live racing, but did not have the opportunity to update the agenda. Mr. Hopkins further explained that the request was submitted to the Commission as a routine request. This request, not being different from previous requests, was asking the Commission to approve a live racing schedule from May 29, 2020 through August 27, 2020, including 28 days of live racing to be held on Friday and Saturday, with the exception of May 31st, June 1st and June 8th. Other ordinary requests, included, but were not limited to, the simulcasting of their live signal to out-of-state facilities, officials, common pool and wagering.

Alan Rifkin representing the Maryland Jockey Club commented that when the pandemic began in March, Governor Hogan restricted certain activities in the State, but did not specifically identify and order live horse racing to cease. The Maryland Jockey Club, which had already been operating without the general public being allowed on the grounds, voluntarily ceased live racing. Mr. Rifkin further commented that under the existing Executive Orders, the Maryland Jockey Club used that time to develop safety and welfare protocols with the horsemen, MedStar Health and Georgetown Hospital.  Mr. Rifkin further explained that after working with their partners and using the same downward trend parameters as being followed by the Governor for COVID19, the Maryland Jockey Club believed it was time to restart live racing. Commissioner Tammy Lafferty commented that it was her understanding that the Governor did order live racing to stop. Mr. Rifkin explained it was the MJC’s decision to voluntarily cease operations. Commissioner Ernie Grecco asked why only Friday and Saturday racing and also inquired about Off Track Betting (OTB) facilities. Mr. Rifkin responded by stating that the reason for only two days a week of live racing was a financial one and that until the casinos were reopened the purse account was limited. Mr. Rifkin also noted that the OTB’s would be positioned to reopen when it is safe. Commissioner Tom Bowman asked why the track was not opened the previous week. Mr. Rifkin responded that there had not been sufficient time to observe the downwards trends in COVID19 that were being utilized by the administration and reopening the previous week may have been premature.

Chairman Algeo thanked Mr. Rifkin and commented that the Commission has the application from Maryland Jockey Club for its Summer 2020 live race meet, including live racing starting on Saturday May 30; with simulcast, intertrack, and common pool wagering to begin as early as May 29th.  Chairman Algeo also noted that the Commission has also reviewed the safety and related protocols to be followed.  Chairman Algeo noted that the track will remain closed to the general public, pending further guidance from the Governor’s Office. Chairman Algeo requested a Motion to approve the Laurel Park Summer 2020 meet request as described in the application and subject to the safety and related protocols, as may be amended from time to time. Commissioner Grecco made a motion to approve the requests submitted and the motion was seconded by Commissioner Hayden. The Commission unanimously approved the request.

Sal Sinatra thanked everyone for their continued cooperation during the pandemic and that the Preakness has been scheduled to run on October 3, 2020.

Public Comments.

Alan Rifkin commented on the passage of SB 987 and wanted to thank the Commission, industry leaders, the legislature, the Mayor of Baltimore, Bill Cole, Alan Foreman and everyone else who participated in the historic legislation.

Bobbi Lillis thanked the Commission and applauded the horsemen for all the support shown to the backstretch workers.  Chairman Algeo thanked Mr. Lillis and Jessica Hammond for their efforts with the backstretch.

Andy Cashman of the Maryland State Fair commented that the 2 year-old in training sale has been scheduled for June 29th and 30th in Timonium.

Dr. Michael Harrison asked what impact the pandemic has had on the implementation of SB 987. Alan Rifkin responded that it was too soon to tell, but everyone is cautiously optimistic.

Tom Cooke, a harness breeder, asked how much purse money was available for Ocean Downs. Mr. Hopkins responded that he should contact the Cloverleaf representative.

Delegate Sandy Rosenberg thanked everyone in the industry for their hard work and was looking forward to working with all parties in the industry. Chairman Algeo thanked Delegate Rosenberg for his support to the racing industry.

Next Commission Meeting

The next Commission Meeting will be held on June 25, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. via a conference call or similar technology and that instructions for participation would be posted on the Racing Commission website.

J. Michael Hopkins
Executive Director