Harness track sale gets OK

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Maryland Racing Commission granted unanimous approval yesterday for the sale of Rosecroft Raceway to Georgia K. Angelos, wife of Peter G. Angelos, majority owner of the Orioles.

Rosecroft Raceway, the struggling harness track in Prince George's County, has been mentioned prominently as a potential site for slot machines. With the debate over legalizing the machines expected to heat up again in the legislative session that opens today, Rosecroft's new ownership will likely assume a central role.

Georgia Angelos, operating as Rosecroft Holdings, is expected to consummate the deal to buy Rosecroft in 30 to 60 days.

"We all know who's the power behind this," said Tom McDonough, chairman of the racing commission. "Having Peter Angelos in the corner of the people trying to get slots to help racing and breeding is a good thing.

"We've got to get some help from the legislature. I think Peter helps us in that respect. He gets things done."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a slots backer, said Angelos could play an important role this year in getting long-stalled slots legislation passed in the General Assembly.

"I think he'd be a positive force in uniting people -- especially on that issue," Miller said. "The fact that [commissioners] approved it unanimously recognizes that Mr. Angelos is a very important player in the state of Maryland and can have a very positive impact on racing in Maryland.

"With his enthusiasm and hard work, we're confident he can bring racing to new heights in the state of Maryland."

W. Minor Carter, a lobbyist for a coalition of Maryland anti-slots groups, said Angelos "is certainly a powerful and skilled player in politics." But, he said, that might not be enough to swing a vote in favor of slots.

"There's a fundamental problem, and that is that the people who want slots don't want slots in their neighborhoods," Carter said. "I don't see how the proponents overcome that."

He noted that there has been strong opposition to slots in Prince George's County, where Rosecroft is situated. Polls show that support tends to be strongest in areas that have not been targeted for slots casinos.

Peter Angelos did not attend the commission meeting at Pimlico, nor did his wife. Louis F. Angelos, their son, represented Rosecroft Holdings as its attorney.

Louis Angelos pledged to work with the thoroughbred factions in a "supportive society," not only to pursue slots but also to resolve long-running disputes and promote racing.

"We are committed to protecting the Maryland racing industry," he said.

He said the industry was in a "dire situation" because of slot machines at tracks in Delaware and West Virginia and, soon, in Pennsylvania. The machines have boosted racing purses and breeding incentives in those states, often at the expense of Maryland's tracks and breeding programs.

Segments of the Maryland racing industry have frequently been at odds when lobbying for slot machines in Annapolis. Alan Foreman, attorney for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents thoroughbred owners and trainers, said he believes the Angelos family's involvement will help solidify the industry.

"Absolutely," Foreman said, when asked whether the thoroughbred horsemen could work with the Angeloses. "We'll be able to deal with the Angelos family. The Angelos family comes from a thoroughbred background. They understand our issues and concerns."

Peter Angelos has been involved in the horse business for more than 25 years. He owns, breeds and races thoroughbreds. As majority owner of the Orioles, Angelos is prohibited by Major League Baseball from owning a racetrack. Louis, his son, said that Peter Angelos would have no formal involvement in Rosecroft Raceway, but that "we'll certainly draw on his knowledge and experience."

Documents filed with the racing commission said Rosecroft Holdings will pay $13 million for Rosecroft Raceway. Rosecroft Holdings has advanced the track $7.2 million to pay off its mortgage with Northwind Racing, which had foreclosed on Rosecroft and was preparing to sell the track at auction. Rosecroft Holdings also advanced the track $500,000 as a deposit. The remaining $5.3 million will be paid at closing.

The sales agreement guarantees 150 days of racing and purses of about $43,000 a day. Last year, Rosecroft raced 117 days and paid the top-finishing horses about $41,000 a day.

The agreement stipulates that if slots come to Rosecroft, 8 percent of the owner's share will be added to purses. In addition, Rosecroft Holdings then must bring in 25 percent minority ownership or establish a nonprofit community foundation of equal value.

"The past three years have been extremely difficult, said Tom Chuckas Jr., president and chief executive officer of the raceway, referring to aborted efforts to sell the track and resulting court battles. "We're very optimistic that this is the dawn of a new era."

Sun staff writer Greg Garland contributed to this article.

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