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Sale of Laurel, Pimlico racetracks put off again

ElectionsReferendaAuction ServiceLocal GovernmentMagna Entertainment Corp.Triple Crown

The sale of two Maryland horse-racing tracks by bankrupt owner Magna Entertainment Corp. has been delayed for a second time, giving the company and bidders time to gain a better grasp on whether voters will be able to decide the fate of slots at Arundel Mills mall.

The auction of Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness Triple Crown race is now scheduled Feb. 10, while a hearing to approve the sale has been rescheduled for Feb. 26.

Magna attorney Brian Rosen did not give a reason for the three-week delay when reached by phone Tuesday. "We thought it was the right time," he said.

But those following the slots debate said the later date would give Magna an opportunity to gauge whether opponents of slots at Arundel Mills will be able to collect enough signatures to put the issue to referendum in November. Opponents have until Feb. 5 to gather half of the 18,000 required signatures.

Uncertainty over slots at the Hanover mall might raise the stakes - and the bids - for the tracks by bettering the chances of slots at Laurel Park. There is only one slots license in Anne Arundel County, and it is owned by Baltimore developer David Cordish, who is building the slots casino at Arundel Mills. But if the mall project is rejected by voters, the state could reopen bidding for that license.

"If they get enough signatures, they have the possibility there won't be approval at Arundel Mills, and it may be moved to Laurel, which may make [the track] worth more," said Jeff Seder, managing director of Blow Horn Equity, LLC, a Pennsylvania horse breeder and racing consultant backed by private equity that has bid on the Maryland tracks.

Some opponents of the mall project say Laurel Park is a better choice because slots could boost business at the tracks.

"If you absolutely knew there would be no slots in Laurel Park, you may bid $40 million," said John Franzone, chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission, who doesn't want slots at the mall. "After they have got 9,500 votes, you might bid $50 million."

The Anne Arundel County Board of Elections certified a petition in late December allowing anti-slots groups to begin gathering the necessary signatures for a referendum on whether to allow the gambling devices at Arundel Mills. A plan by Cordish for a 4,750-machine slot facility planned for a parking lot near the mall's food court was approved by the county council last month.

Cordish, who has bid on the racetracks, reiterated Tuesday in an e-mail that he thinks "the petition drive will fail.

"The reality of the situation is Magna will get lower bids," he said.

Six bidders have expressed interest in the tracks, including Cordish, Blow Horn Equity, Penn National Gaming Inc. and Joseph A. De Francis and his family, the former owners of the Maryland tracks.

"I can't speculate on their motives, but I have no problem with the delay," De Francis said about the new auction date. "It's not that big a difference in time."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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ElectionsReferendaAuction ServiceLocal GovernmentMagna Entertainment Corp.Triple Crown
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