Is the Preakness Worth a State $400 Million Subsidy?

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Is the Preakness Worth a State $400 Million Subsidy?

Rebuilding Pimlico Unlikely to Restore Maryland Horse Racing’s Glory Days

Governor Wes Moore signed into law earlier this month a plan for the State to take over ownership and rebuild Baltimore’s dilapidated Pimlico Racecourse. Maryland will use $400 million in state funding to rebuild the Preakness Stakes’ home, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

“Because of this bill, we have a path forward to continue running the Preakness in Maryland and renovate the historic Pimlico Racecourse. This bill will create lasting economic benefits to the state and the Baltimore region,” claimed Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones.[i]

Really?

In 2022, there were 276 days and nights of licensed racing in the State. Total attendance was 226,202, an average of 800 people per event.  And this includes the one-time Preakness attendance spike. Since 2008, total gambling revenue for races held at the tracks has dropped by 75% from $325 million to $79 million. (Another $45 million came from simulcast races.) [ii]

Once, horse racing held a privileged position as a legally sanctioned way to gamble. But now, from the state lottery to casino gambling, horse tracks have become an also-ran in the race for punters’ dollars. Maryland’s six casinos combined to generate more revenue from slot machines and table games in a single month, April 2024, $163 million. That’s nearly twice as much as a single year’s gambling at Maryland’s tracks. This stark contrast is a testament to the changing times and the diminishing significance of horse racing. [iii]

All too often, Maryland’s – and especially Baltimore’s – political class seems to suffer from a kind of policy nostalgia. This reflects a desire to bring back the ways things used to be in Charm City.

  • Trolleys used to be the way people commuted? Build the Red Line.
  • The Inner Harbor was a tourist destination? Subsidize it with $400 million in support.
  • The Preakness used to be a premier social event in Maryland? Rebuild Pimilco at the State’s expense.[iv]

[i] https://wtop.com/other-sports/2024/05/maryland-governor-signs-bill-to-rebuild-pimlico-home-of-the-preakness-stakes/

[ii] https://www.labor.maryland.gov/racing/mrcannrep2022.pdf

[iii] https://smnewsnet.com/archives/533341/maryland-casinos-generate-163-2-million-in-gaming-revenue-during-april-2024/#:~:text=Maryland’s%20six%20casinos%20combined%20to,%25)%20compared%20to%20April%202023.

[iv] https://www.baltimoresun.com/2024/03/21/propping-up-the-ponies-at-pimlico-is-a-bad-bet-for-maryland-guest-commentary/

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