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Rosecroft to resume racing in three weeks

Penn National GamingElections

Rosecroft Raceway will resume horse racing in three weeks after state regulators came to an agreement Friday with the facility's owner over operating losses.

The Maryland Racing Commission voted unanimously to accept a proposal by Penn National Gaming to take out a $1.4 million line of credit to cover projected operating losses at Rosecroft for 2011 and 2012.

This will allow the track that closed last year to begin simulcasting races next month and live harness racing in October. The facility will operate 20 days of live racing this year and 54 in 2012.

"We can now reopen, bring back jobs and begin the process to get racing under way again at Rosecroft," said Eric Schippers, Penn National spokesman, after the vote.

The decision brought satisfaction and relief to owners who had been taking their horses to race at facilities in other states.

"The horsemen are thrilled," Thomas B. Cooke, president of the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners' Association, said after the meeting. "This allows them to look toward the future and not through the past. They see this as an opportunity."

The racing commission had voted earlier this month to approve a plan by Penn National to begin racing at Rosecroft. Despite the vote, the future of the track remained in limbo because Penn National wasn't sure it would agree to conditions set by the commission to cover operating losses in order to get the license.

Craig Gegorek, an outside accountant hired by the racing commission, had found in an audit that Rosecroft did not have the "financial ability" to operate because Penn National would not guarantee the funds to cover the track's projected losses.

The commission has historically required prospective owners to show they have the financial means to operate a racetrack for at least two years.

Schippers said the commission's initial request required Penn National to put up an undetermined amount of cash to cover the losses, something the company didn't want to do because of the uncertainty that comes with running a racetrack.

The line of credit was a better option for Penn National, Schippers said.

Horse breeders also criticized the commission, saying the financial conditions could ruin chances for racing to restart at Rosecroft.

Penn National's loss projections do not include revenue from wagers on thoroughbred races shown at the track because Rosecroft has yet to reach an agreement to broadcast such races with Maryland's thoroughbred industry. The state has begun mediating those talks.

Penn National brought Rosecroft for $11 million in a bankruptcy auction earlier this year. Rosecroft has had a string of owners in recent years that some say left it unstable.

The track suspended live racing to save money and had been operating as an off-track betting site for two years before closing last summer.

Penn National is banking on the state's slots revenue being expanded to allow machines at Rosecroft. The company opened Hollywood Casino Perryville, Maryland's first slots parlor in more than 30 years, in September.

Maryland voters have approved slots for five locations, but Prince George's County is not one of them.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ankwalker

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