More than three hours before the casino's 1 p.m. opening, Ocean City resident Beckie Jolliff arrived and waited despite the frigid weather. "I wanted to be the first and be part of history and the excitement," Jolliff said.
Angela Cabala, 69, of Ocean Pines, tried her luck at a penny "Sex and the City" machine. A frequent visitor of Harrington Raceway & Casino in Delaware, Cabala said she will now make the five-minute commute to the Ocean Downs casino.
"I love it," she said. "Plus, it gives a lot of people jobs."
The Ocean Downs racetrack will resume its 40-day live racing season in the summer, which had been suspended last year as the casino was being built.
Rosecroft had been operating essentially as an off-track betting site for two years before it closed in July because of financial troubles. Last year, the state legislature rejected a bill sought by the track to legalize poker and table games there.
Rosecroft wasn't designated a slots site in legislation that legalized such gambling and sent the issue to a November 2008 referendum. Several Prince George's County elected officials had objected to having slots in their county.
But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat who attended the opening of the Ocean Downs casino, said he would "absolutely" support a bill that would expand slots gambling at Rosecroft and bring the issue to a statewide ballot in 2012.
Miller called Rosecroft a prime location to draw gamblers from Washington and Virginia.
"You could take this facility right now and put it in Rosecroft," Miller said, referring to the Ocean Downs casino. "You could market it, you could reap money for education, reap money for racing and save taxpayers a bundle of money."
According to court documents, Rosecroft's bankruptcy trustee, James Murphy, met with potential buyers and sought bids for the racetrack. Five entities submitted a bid, and they were given a second opportunity to provide a "higher and better offer," according to court documents.
Peter Angelos emerged as the best bid, court documents said.
Under the deal, Angelos also agreed to pay another $3 million if the General Assembly approves a $15 million bond that would be funded through slots revenue dedicated to a standardbred purse account. Angelos also said he would apply for a racing license with the state racing commission to run live racing at Rosecroft in the fall.
Franzone, of the commission, said the legislature should consider financial assistance for the track, since the governor brokered a deal to save live thoroughbred racing at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course by providing up to $4 million.
Rosecroft is seeking a similar financial structure provided to the two thoroughbred tracks. The Maryland Economic Development Corp., known as MEDCO, is expected to provide the $3.5 million to $4 million to the two thoroughbred tracks as a loan that would be repaid by the state, using slots revenue intended for thoroughbred track improvements.
Franzone said Rosecroft would need some work, but racing might be able to resume in late summer.
Ralph Hayward, president of the Maryland Standardbred Horsemen's Association, said Angelos has the kind of clout the track needs to get back onto its feet. The track, he said, could be put into shape in a few weeks.
"But it's not the shape of the track, it's getting the horses to come in. You've got to get a full complement of horses to fill your schedule." That said, Hayward added, "Everybody hasn't left Maryland yet. They have farms here and they'd like to bring their horses back to race at home."
Sun staff writer Candus Thomson contributed to this article.