The owners of Pimlico Race Course are reconsidering plans to shut down off-track betting at the historic venue, a day after a news report indicated the track would stop carrying simulcast wagering by the end of the month.
In an email sent to employees Thursday afternoon, 1/ST Racing and Gaming CEO Aidan Butler wrote that ownership is “reassessing” the move, which he indicated would have occurred only “during the summer months when it is not as utilized by our patrons.” A final decision has not been made.
“As we continue our assessment of the Pimlico OTB operations, we are committed to working closely with your union, elected officials, and governmental agencies,” Butler wrote.
The decision to cease off-track-betting operations was first reported Wednesday by the political news site Maryland Matters.
Acting Maryland Jockey Club President Mike Rogers cited recent “financial challenges” as the reason for the closure, according to an email to employees obtained by the site.
“The Pimlico OTB has been a valuable part of our organization for many years, providing a convenient location for our customers to enjoy thoroughbred racing,” Rogers wrote. “Understandably, this news may come as a disappointment to many of you.”
Over the course of 199 simulcast days in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, bettors wagered almost $11.3 million at Pimlico on races that were run off-site, according to the Maryland Racing Commission’s annual report. Of that, almost $588,000 was bet on races happening elsewhere in Maryland and nearly $10.7 million was wagered on races out of state.
By comparison, Laurel hosted 50 fewer simulcast days that year but took in $29.3 million, ranking first among all Maryland properties where betting on horse races is permitted, according to the report.
An off-track-betting parlor at the Maryland State Fairgrounds brought in more than $15 million, while simulcast facilities at two of the state’s largest casinos, MGM National Harbor and Horseshoe Baltimore, saw $10.3 million and $9.2 million in bets, respectively.
The numbers don’t paint the full picture of the industry, because indoor facilities such as casinos and racetrack grandstands were under capacity restrictions for parts of 2021 due to COVID-19. Laurel Park reopened to spectators in March 2021 with capacity limited to 250 people; it was bumped to 400 the following week.
And that year’s Preakness, the state’s marquee race held annually at Pimlico, was run in May with attendance capped at 10,000 people to allow for physical distancing.
However, Laurel has outpaced Pimlico in simulcast revenues every year since 2005, according to previous Maryland Racing Commission annual reports. Before the onset of the pandemic, in 2019, Laurel Park took in $50.3 million in simulcast wagers, nearly $38 million more than Pimlico.
The decision on the future of simulcast betting at Old Hilltop comes as the operating agreement between the Maryland Jockey Club and horsemen is set to expire at the end of this month. Racing will be held at Pimlico this weekend, then move to Laurel Park for the remaining Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in June. Both tracks will have simulcast betting most days during the week.
Nothing is booked for July and beyond.
The next meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission, which would have to approve an agreement between track operators and horsemen, along with additional racing dates, is scheduled for June 6.
In an about-face from an earlier regime, Butler has said if the racing industry in the state is to “right size” and go from two one-mile racetracks to one, his preference would be to focus on Pimlico. Previous plans called for Laurel to be fixed up as a year-round “super track” and host venue for Preakness.
“The opportunity, I believe, is to concentrate on Pimlico as the racetrack and maybe use Laurel for training or use another location for training,” Butler said in an exclusive interview with The Baltimore Banner. “But, if the idea is to build two new racetracks, that doesn’t make a lot of logical sense. Personally, if I were to rebuild one, I’d rather rebuild Pimlico.”