Posted: 7:00 pm Sun, August 15, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer
Officials at Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County say the closed harness racing track may still have a chance to be reincarnated as a table games destination.
When the track closed July 1, owner Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc. said it would convert from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and auction off the track. Potential buyer Mark Vogel also said the track was losing too much money for him to keep investing and that he could no longer afford the monthly mortgage payments.
But now the Greenbelt-based developer says he is still making the track’s mortgage payments and is in talks with a few interested gaming partners and “in advanced discussions” with one.
“That means how much money you’re going to put up and what’s my role,” Vogel said last week. “Will I have a partner? Eventually I will because I’m not a gaming company. I need someone who knows that side of the business for this to work.”
Efforts to pass legislation legalizing poker rooms at Rosecroft failed in this year’s General Assembly session. A bill passed the Senate but died in the House of Delegates. When Rosecroft shut its doors, officials pointed to that legislative failure as a key component of the track’s demise.
Meanwhile, Cloverleaf is holding off on converting its bankruptcy to Chapter 7 liquidation, according to its president, Kelley Rogers.
“It remains to be seen on [whether we will file for] Chapter 7,” he said last week. “If we find a new buyer or Mark closes on his purchase … the answer is no. Or if the state works out something, the answer is no.”
Since Vogel first stepped forward as a potential buyer a year ago, he said he has invested more than $3 million in loans to the track, mortgage payments, lobbying fees and a table games feasibility study. His option to buy the track is set to expire on Sept. 2 in bankruptcy court.
Vogel hasn’t encountered obstacles only in the House of Delegates. In April, the bankruptcy judge denied Cloverleaf’s motion to sell Rosecroft to Vogel and last week Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough and Rogers said they were open to other buyers for the track.
In June Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed McDonough to help save some of the 200 lost jobs at the track when it closed.
Vogel, a supporter of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., O’Malley’s likely opponent in the November election, said he’s confident he has the resources to work out a favorable deal. He also said he still believes he could get enough support for card games at Rosecroft to pass in the General Assembly.
With the card games revenue, he said he could bring live racing back to Rosecroft, which halted its harness racing schedule two years ago.
Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled last week that Cloverleaf’s antitrust lawsuit against the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Jockey Club can proceed.
Cloverleaf claims the groups conspired to block Rosecroft’s right to broadcast and take bets on thoroughbred races. Since it halted live racing, Rosecroft has essentially run as an off-track betting facility, profiting solely from simulcast wagering.
“In my defense I believe that the community of Prince George’s County wants me to own the track,” Vogel said, adding he has remained in contact with the county’s legislative delegation since the General Assembly closed. “Whether John McDonough wants me to own the track, I could care less.”
Rogers said Cloverleaf had been in earnest when it held a press conference in June announcing the track would shut down after 61 years and be auctioned off.
“At that time that’s what we thought it was going to be,” he said. “And then Mark continued to make the mortgage payments. And then the state started getting involved. That breathed a little life back into it.”