Angelos' proposal came as Maryland's second slots casino opened Tuesday at the Ocean Downs racetrack on the Eastern Shore. Gov. Martin O'Malley, state leaders and Worcester County officials attended the grand opening of the $45 million casino, the latest expansion of Maryland gambling that took many years and rancorous debate to become a reality.
Under Angelos' proposal, supported by Rosecroft Raceway's owner and the bankruptcy trustee, he would pay $9 million in cash plus another $5 million if slots are permitted in Prince George's County and a casino is operational at the harness-racing track by Dec. 1, 2012. The purchase agreement, outlined in court documents filed this week, needs to be approved by the bankruptcy court.
Many uncertainties hang over the proposal. Legalizing slots at any new location requires a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution. And Angelos, a top Baltimore lawyer and avid owner of thoroughbred horses, is prohibited from having a direct ownership stake in a gambling enterprise under Major League Baseball rules. The ownership and management structure under Angelos at Rosecroft was unclear in court documents.
But Angelos' bid has support in the horse-racing community, whose industry has been declining. A possible shutdown this year of the state's main thoroughbred tracks was averted at the 11th hour by an O'Malley-brokered agreement to provide state financial backing funded by slot-machine revenue.
"Mr. Angelos is a good businessman, a prominent lawyer and well known in the community. To me, it's like a trifecta," said John Franzone, a longtime member of the Maryland Racing Commission.
The Angelos family had previously tried to broker a deal to buy Rosecroft, which filed for bankruptcy in June 2009. That deal fell apart in 2005 when prospects for legalizing slots machines there dimmed.
Peter Angelos could not be reached for comment.
The current owner welcomed Angelos' bid.
"We're thrilled. The Angelos family is a great family in Maryland," said Kelley Rogers, president of Rosecroft's owner, Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc. "They're going to do great things for Rosecroft. We're really pleased. It's been a long winding process."
Meanwhile, after a slow start to the state's slot-machine program, casinos are opening for the first time since slots gambling was banned in the 1960s.
The Hollywood Casino Perryville opened in late September, generating $21 million in revenue so far. And after a long and contentious legal battle, the state's largest casino is expected to be unveiled late this year at a temporary facility next to Arundel Mills mall in Anne Arundel County while a permanent parlor is under construction there.
The state has been unable to attract acceptable bids for licenses to operate casinos in Baltimore and at Rocky Gap in Western Maryland. Meanwhile, owners of the Laurel Park thoroughbred track plan to lobby in the coming General Assembly session for a second slots license in Anne Arundel County.
O'Malley defended the pace at which slots casinos are opening. "You'll be sore pressed to find another state in the country that has opened not just one but two of these locations in this period of time," the governor said, noting that much has happened during the recent recession. "I'm looking forward to opening the remaining three as we move forward in the course of this year."
Besides the 300 construction-related jobs and 236 full-time positions the Casino at Ocean Downs created, O'Malley and county and business leaders are optimistic that the venue will complement Ocean City's tourism industry and attract visitors to the resort town during the off-season.
Instead of tourists heading across the border to visit casinos in Delaware, Jerry Redden, director of economic development for Worcester County, said, he expects them to stay put in Ocean City if they want to gamble. The resort town gets 8 million tourists annually, he said.
The slots parlor, next to the Ocean Downs harness track, includes 750 slot machines whose denominations range from one penny to $5. The 34,000-square-feet venue features a bar as the focal point as well as high ceilings and Victorian-like decor.
Oceans Downs owner William M. Rickman described the casino as a "local activity" that will fit well with the surrounding communities. He said the casino plans to remain small and do little advertising.