Auction for Laurel, Pimlico is pushed back to Feb. 10

Posted: 7:35 pm Mon, January 18, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The auction of Maryland’s thoroughbred race tracks has been delayed for the second time, and is now scheduled for three months before the state’s biggest racing day of the year — the Preakness Stakes.

The fate of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park is now scheduled to be decided Feb. 10, according to a motion to delay the auction filed by Magna Entertainment Corp., the company that owns the tracks.

Magna’s attorneys did not give a reason for the delay in the filing and did not return requests for comment.

Two weeks ago, the original Jan. 8 auction date was pushed back to Thursday, also at the request of Magna. An attorney for the Ontario-based company said at the time Magna wanted a few more days to reach a preliminary agreement with one of the six qualified bidders for its Maryland properties.

Magna was then to share that preliminary agreement with the other five bidders and to Maryland, to give the state the option of exercising its right of first refusal.

Six groups or people have placed bids on Magna’s Maryland properties. Known bidders are former owner Joseph De Francis, Baltimore-based developer David Cordish and Penn National Gaming, which is planning a slots facility in Cecil County. Magna has required that all bidders for Pimlico keep Preakness in Maryland.

John Franzone, chair of the Maryland Racing Commission, said Magna may be delaying because of the ongoing fight to allow slot machines at Laurel Park. Cordish holds the only gaming license allotted for Anne Arundel County and plans to build a facility near the Arundel Mills mall.

Because Cordish holds the Anne Arundel license, Laurel cannot be granted a license for slots. However, racing advocates are circulating a petition to put Cordish’s casino to a voter referendum in hopes of getting approval revoked. At least 18,000 signatures are required and half must be collected by the end of this month.

“I think Magna is looking to get more value and looking at the petition issue in Anne Arundel County,” Franzone said. “[If they collect] 9,000 signatures, that may give someone more positive mojo to bid higher.”

Franzone said pushing the auction back is causing other aspects of Maryland’s racing industry to be put on hold — namely a crossbreed simulcast agreement between the thoroughbred industry and the Standardbred industry that would allow tracks on both sides to take bets on the other’s races. Without a thoroughbred track owner, those negotiations are on hold, Franzone said.

He also noted that moving the auction to just over three months before Preakness is cutting it close. But the racing commission could issue a temporary track operator license to a new track owner in time for the race.

Magna filed for bankruptcy on March 5 of last year. The company was the largest race track owner in North America, owning tracks in California, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Maryland.