Rosecroft Raceway’s license extended through July 1

Posted: 8:40 pm Tue, April 13, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The Maryland Racing Commission Monday voted 5-1 to approve Rosecroft Raceway’s racing license through July 1 after prospective buyer Mark Vogel offered to front money to keep the Fort Washington track operational,

“We live to fight another day,” said Sharon Roberts, executive director of Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, the track owner’s parent company.

In a lengthy hearing Tuesday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course, officials from Rosecroft’s owner, Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., testified on the harness track’s financial viability.

Cloverleaf President Kelly Rogers said with Vogel’s $350,000 loan and a $150,000 loan from the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, the track could remain operational through July 1. Both loans are subject to approval by a bankruptcy court judge.

“Mark is still pursuing [buying] the track,” Rogers told the commission at a hearing following its monthly meeting. “He intends to go forward with an application [for a race track operator’s license] hopefully by June.”

Rogers also said Rosecroft was working on an agreement to take over 40 racing days from Maryland’s other harness racing track, the Eastern Shore’s Ocean Downs.

Roberts said if Rosecroft was able to reach an agreement with Ocean Downs owner William Rickman Jr., they hoped to run the June Ocean Downs meet at Rosecroft.

Rosecroft’s racing license was set to expire Wednesday. Track officials said last week they would be forced to close the track if their legislative initiatives were not successful. Maryland’s General Assembly session ended Monday night.

The bills they were pushing included SB 1035, which would have put legalizing poker rooms at Rosecroft to a county voter referendum, and SB 1051/HB 1517, which proposed a separate racing commission for standardbred and thoroughbred racing. The two bills also proposed altering the money from slots that would be used to boost purses to a 70/30 split between thoroughbred and standardbred instead of the current 80/20 percent.

The poker bill passed the Senate but died in the House. The other bills died in their original committees.

Racing Commission Chairman John Franzone was the lone vote against extending the track’s racing license. He said after the meeting he was not convinced that Cloverleaf was managing its money to the benefit of the industry.

“It’s not about harness racing, this is about an entity that’s trying to get extended gaming,” he said, referring to the poker legislation that Vogel and Rosecroft officials pushed this year. “They’re just funding themselves so they can get to that point. It’s not going to the harness racing industry … and between [their lawyers] they’re getting nearly $1 million.

During the more than two-hour hearing, the commission questioned Cloverleaf accountant Street Baldwin about the track’s financials for more than an hour, asking about outstanding debts and legal expenses.

Rogers said Cloverleaf has spent roughly $900,000 over the last year in litigation against entities in the thoroughbred industry, including the Maryland Jockey Club.

That litigation revolves around a 2006 simulcast agreement that authorized Rosecroft to take bets on thoroughbred races for a payment of $5.9 million per year to the thoroughbred industry. The track accrued a $2.3 million debt by April 2009 before the racing commission voted to shut off Rosecroft’s signal after Cloverleaf said it could not continue to honor its financial agreement with the thoroughbreds.

Baldwin said the signal shut down had a “severe impact” on Rosecroft’s operational income last year. The facility has been open as an off-track betting facility for harness and quarter horse races for nearly a year.

In other business, Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas updated the commission on the organization’s crowd control plans for the infield at the Preakness Stakes, which is scheduled for May 15. The jockey club banned outside beverages last year in an attempt to quell the historically out-of-control behavior on the infield. This year, Pimlico will sell beer mugs for $20 each, which includes unlimited refills.

Chuckas said the jockey club is limiting mug sales to 10,000, and a wristband will also be required for free refills. Those who buy a mug must stay in a beer garden, which will be on the north end of the track, and Chuckas said police will institute a zero tolerance policy toward public drunkenness.