Cordish, De Francis submit bids for Md. tracks

Posted: 8:01 pm Mon, December 14, 2009
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer 

Baltimore developer David Cordish and former track owner Joseph De Francis are among a handful of bidders for Maryland’s two thoroughbred tracks up for auction next month.

Cordish confirmed in an e-mail Monday morning he had submitted a bid for Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course last week. The tracks are owned by the Magna Entertainment Corp., a Canadian company that declared bankruptcy in March.

Jonathan Cordish, vice president of The Cordish Cos., said Cordish’s bid does not include a plan to bring slots to Laurel Park. Cordish won a bid to build a slots casino near Arundel Mills, but the company’s plans are still subject to zoning approval by the Anne Arundel County Council. The council is schedule to take that vote on Dec. 21.

“We have no intention of moving slots from Arundel Mills, as our site will maximize revenues for the State, County horse racing industry and ourselves,” Jonathan Cordish wrote in an e-mail. “Any phantom ‘alternative’ to the Mills site would take years longer and a complete re-start of the entire [proposal] process, whereas we are ready to start this coming Tuesday.”

De Francis, who sold his family’s majority interest in Maryland’s tracks to Magna in 2002, said that assumption was false. As former president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, the umbrella organization for the two tracks, De Francis said much of the time from 2002 to 2007 was spent getting the proper environmental, building and traffic permits to prepare for the day when Laurel Park was authorized to operate slot machines. (Voters granted limited approval for slots in 2008.)

“We’re not talking about building a hot dog stand here,” De Francis said. “Permits for a facility that’s going to draw crowds of that nature are incredibly complex and time consuming to obtain.”

He estimated that if Laurel’s new owners submitted a proposal next year to operate slots, the track still would bring the machines to the market three years sooner than it would take for Cordish’s site to be built and obtain the proper permits.

But only one slots site is allowed in Anne Arundel County. If Cordish becomes the new owner of Maryland’s tracks and his slots site near Arundel Mills comes to fruition, De Francis said he did not see a horse racing future for Laurel.

“He is a very successful real estate developer — not a racetrack operator,” De Francis said. “I think it is not economically feasible to operate a race track if there’s slots right up the road. I think there’s zero possibility that race track survives.”

Baltimore area developer Carl Verstandig is part of a group that submitted a bid for Magna’s properties at the first bid deadline last month. The bid included the Maryland properties and Magna’s California and Florida tracks, and Verstandig has agreed to pay $38 million to develop the property around the tracks if theirs is the winning bid.

In total, six bids were submitted to Miller Buckfire, the New York-based firm handling Magna’s assets auction. Michael Wildish, managing director, said the other three bidders were remaining private but were recognizable names in Maryland and horse racing.

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos has said he is interested in bidding on Maryland’s race tracks but did not respond to requests for comment.

Churchill Downs Inc., the entity that owns the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs race track, would not confirm or deny involvement in the bidding process. But a spokeswoman CDI’s policy is not to comment on any potential acquisitions.

Maryland’s tracks will go up for auction on Jan. 8 in New York.