Maybe it’s a long shot, and maybe it’s just “Preakness Fever” addling our brains, but some of us are wondering if this week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on sports betting might turn out to be a late-hour death sentence reprieve for Pimlico Race Course.
As we head toward the 145th running of the Preakness Stakes on May 19, with an anticipated overflow crowd and its traditional carnival atmosphere and national TV coverage, all of these momentary positives may pale compared to the high court’s ruling.
In a 6-to-3 vote, the court struck down a federal law that largely prohibited sports betting in the United States. That means individual states – including Maryland – can vote to legalize gambling on professional and college sports, such as baseball, football and basketball.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Such betting is already an unofficial national pastime. Millions of Americans bet billions of dollars every year to follow their money while they’re following their favorite teams.
But it’s a pastime conducted with the cops looking the other way. Now, we could have people phoning in their bets to their local government operators – or perhaps for a more party-like atmosphere, heading for a gathering place where they might watch multiple TV screens and catch any ballgame being played anywhere on the globe, and place their bets pitch-by-pitch or basket-by-basket.
And such a gathering place might be Pimlico Race Course, no?
It might be Old Hilltop’s last shot at salvation. There are no guarantees beyond next year’s running of the Preakness that the race will stay at Pimlico – not with the track in tattered shape, and not with a Maryland Stadium Authority study indicating it would cost more than $250 million to get it back in shape.
That’s too much money to spend on a joint that’s only open for live racing a dozen times a year. But it might be small change if transformed into a public, polished mecca for betting on ballgames.
None of this would happen overnight. There are still political considerations, votes to be cast, and money to be spent. We’re a state that went through all kinds of convolutions when the issue of slot machines first arose, followed by the issue of casino gambling.
But it would seem pretty hypocritical to embrace those forms of gambling and reject this one. Could they turn Pimlico into the very heart of it? Why not? It’s already home to gambling on horses. The new ruling simply offers a variation on a theme.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, is now in paperback.
Also see: Analyzing The Preakness Field — PressBox