In a move with possible implications for the slots debate in Maryland, the owners of Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County have rejected a $13 million purchase offer from the family of Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.
But both sides said yesterday that Thursday night's decision does not shut the door on an eventual sale to the Angelos team.
"Communications are continuing between both sides," said Thomas Chuckas Jr., Rosecroft's chief executive officer.
Annapolis lobbyist Gerald E. Evans, who represents the Angelos family, said: "We have hope the deal will come together."
At stake is more than who owns the cash-strapped harness racing track in Oxon Hill. Gambling supporters think the track would be a lucrative spot for slot machines because of its proximity to Northern Virginia and Washington.
And Angelos, with his political influence in Annapolis, is seen as someone who can help end the debate on gambling and add Maryland to the growing list of states with slots.
One sticking point in the Rosecroft negotiations has been how to shield the Angelos group - which includes his wife, Georgia, and sons Louis and John - from financial liability if a handful of lawsuits pending against Rosecroft succeed.
"We just want some protections should some of these fairly serious lawsuits end up striking gold," Evans said. "We don't think there's anything to them, but you never know."
Evans declined to elaborate on what protections the Angeloses are seeking, and Chuckas said he could not comment on the decision by the board of Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., the corporate entity that owns Rosecroft.
"The best way to describe this is we have some differences," Chuckas said. "Unfortunately at this juncture we were not able to resolve those differences."
In addition to rejecting the bid, as reported in The Washington Post yesterday, the board returned a $500,000 deposit to the Angelos family.
When the Angelos family emerged in June as the preferred buyer for Rosecroft, gambling supporters reacted enthusiastically. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called it a smart move, as did horse owners who are worried about the future of their industry.
The Angelos family has sought twice before to acquire Rosecroft, losing to other bidders in October 2002 and in December. Last year, track owners selected instead a group led by Laurel veterinarian Mark Ricigliano.
But in May the Maryland Racing Commission rejected the application from Ricigliano's Northwind Racing because it relied on revenue from simulcast racing from the rival thoroughbred industry.
Even before Thursday there were signs that the Angelos deal faced hurdles. Two weeks ago, Peter Angelos said the sale had been delayed, with a lawyer for the track's owners saying that the two sides were still discussing details of how the Angelos family would help Rosecroft repay a $7.2 million debt as part of its purchase.
Yesterday Evans focused on the track's unresolved legal problems, including a claim by an Indiana company that it was improperly denied a chance to buy Rosecroft under a 2002 agreement.
Despite those concerns, Evans said the Angelos family remains eager to buy the track, and he said he believes that could still happen.
"I talked to Tom Chuckas yesterday a couple times. He's taking my calls and we're having discussions. To me that means we're still in the ballgame," Evans said.
"It's certainly not definitive. This is a very, very complicated decision; we expect it to be a complicated negotiation."
Chuckas refused to rule anything in or out.
"In my experience here over the last three years," he said, "it is very difficult to assess whether any deal is fully dead or not."