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Maryland Tracks Plans Remodeling

June 14, 1999

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Saying he wants gritty Pimlico Race Course to look more like Churchill Downs, Maryland Jockey Club President Joseph DeFrancis unveiled a plan to renovate and upgrade the thoroughbred track and its sister facility in Laurel over the next five years.

Framed by architects’ renderings of cheerful, green-gabled brick buildings looking more like Colonial Williamsburg than northwest Baltimore, DeFrancis said Monday he wants to make the aging horse track more like a Disney theme park, with clean facilities, friendly and informed employees and a host of family activities.

The planned $35 million facelift _ $18 million for Pimlico and $16.8 million for Laurel Park _ is part of a grand $60 million upgrade and expansion plan that would bring ``a fundamental change in the entertainment experience″ at the tracks, DeFrancis said.

The rest of the money would go toward marketing, expanding off-track betting parlors and ongoing capital improvements.

The General Assembly required the jockey club to develop the plan in order to receive $10 million in state funding for thoroughbred racing purses.

The plan was submitted to the General Assembly’s Legislative Policy Committee, which will review it before passing it on to Gov. Parris Glendening for final approval.

Under the plan, the jockey club will pay for more than half the cost of renovating the parks by expanding off-track betting and investing in aggressive marketing.

The jockey club is also considering an increase in the tracks’ ``takeout″ from bets, which would lower payouts to bettors. Tracks keep 20 cents of every dollar wagered. One proposal would raise the share to 21 or 21 1/2 cents.

DeFrancis said he will ask the state to pay for the rest of the $60 million renovation, but said taxpayers won’t bear the burden. The jockey club will ask the state to issue $27.5 million in revenue bonds, which are essentially loans from private investors, backed by the state of Maryland.

Taxes aren’t affected and the state runs little risk since it requires a payback plan from the borrower.

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