Vogel wants to bring poker to struggling Rosecroft Raceway

Posted: 7:57 pm Tue, December 15, 2009
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer 

Rosecroft Raceway’s owner-in-waiting wants to bring table games to the Prince George’s County harness racing track next year but — as with slots legalization – he could be in for a long struggle.

Greenbelt-based developer Mark Vogel, who is expected to become the new owner of the raceway next month pending a bankruptcy judge’s approval of the approximately $10 million sale, said Tuesday the track is ideal for poker rooms.

He said he plans on running a “full court press” in next year’s legislative session to push legalization.

“I think the momentum has turned in the state, especially in Prince George’s County, because they need the revenues,” Vogel said after a Maryland Racing Commission meeting in Laurel.

He said Lyle Berman, who helped create the World Poker Tour, is advising him on the project. Vogel said he also plans to ask for racing commission approval for 29 racing days at Rosecroft next year, with or without table games. Rosecroft discontinued live racing in June 2008.

Vogel estimates that, at full force, his poker facility would create 800 jobs in the county and attract a younger crowd to Rosecroft. Once a table games license is granted, he said the basic materials — tables and cards — can be quickly brought in to open a facility virtually “overnight.”

But it likely won’t be that easy to get the Maryland General Assembly to legalize another form of gambling after it took more than 10 years to legalize slot machines.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, said he was not opposed to the idea of poker at Rosecroft because it would create jobs and bring life back to a facility that “is going to waste.” Rosecroft has not had live racing in more than a year.

But, Miller said, Vogel should be prepared for a struggle when the legislative session starts in January.

“What he needs is the local delegation behind it — it needs to be tied into the track and maintaining the trotters at the track,” he said. “I think there are people that would support it, but you’ve got to make certain the community’s involved and the money’s going back to the community and creating jobs and opportunities for minority contractors.”

Vogel said he has been speaking to local officials about the possibility of table games since he first entered negotiations to buy the track this past fall. The track’s owner, Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., declared bankruptcy in June.

John Erzen, a spokesman for County Executive Jack B. Johnson, said Johnson’s office could not comment on bringing table games to the county until they saw the legislation proposing the gambling. But Erzen did note Johnson had been opposed to allowing slots in Prince George’s County when the General Assembly took up the issue in 2008.

Several calls were made to officials from the Prince George’s County delegation, but none was available to comment.

Even if Vogel wins community support for his poker rooms, he still faces a formidable figure in House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, who is a known opponent of gambling. His chamber was, for many years, where legislation to legalize slots died.

Busch was traveling Tuesday and unavailable to comment for this story.

Miller said the speaker may be favorable to poker rooms if the county delegation was behind it.

“It is a form of legalized gambling but it’s limited to poker,” he said. “The battle’s going to be in the House of Delegates and the Prince George’s County delegation.”