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Davis says he won’t support Rosecroft slots

Penn National Gaming Inc. will likely face stiff opposition from state lawmakers for its plans to get slot machines at Rosecroft Raceway.

Penn National outbid two other potential buyers for the bankrupt Prince George’s County facility, including Peter G. Angelos, who had originally agreed to buy the track for $9 million in cash, plus $5 million if a referendum to expand gambling was approved and slots were operational at the facility by December 2012.

The gaming company, which also has a 49 percent stake in the Maryland Jockey Club, paid $10.25 million in cash for Rosecroft during Friday’s auction.

“We’re hoping the legislature might consider allowing the issue of slots at Rosecroft to go to the ballot as it is considering other changes to the Maryland gaming law,” D. Eric Schippers, a spokesman for Penn National, had said in a statement.

The company also said it will create a plan to resume live racing this fall.

But a powerful Prince George’s County legislator said the history of Penn National’s pursuit of Rosecroft would lead him to tell the company to “mark me down as a ‘no’ vote now.”

Del. Dereck E. Davis, chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, said Penn National told him before the slots legislation was finalized in 2007 that it would be interested in Rosecroft with or without slots.

In 2007, Penn National’s purchase of Rosecroft was approved by a judge, but the company dropped the sale. Penn National said that the General Assembly’s decision to exclude Prince George’s County as a possible slots venue was its reason for not keeping the property, since it would not have an additional source for revenue.

That left an impression on Davis, who said he had been warming to the idea of gaming coming to his county.

“I couldn’t support it now with them being the owner,” he said. “I intend to relay my experiences to my colleagues and try to convince them not to support such a company.”

Penn National was to buy the track from Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc. for an undisclosed sum, but the agreement included a clause allowing Penn National to back out of the deal in six years if slot machines don’t become legal in Maryland. Penn National owns the Hollywood Casino Perryville and has fought for slots at Laurel Park.

Other House leaders, as well as Gov. Martin O’Malley, have been reluctant to embrace changes to Maryland’s gaming law. The state Senate voted last year to allow Rosecroft to add a card room, but the legislation died in the House.

Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard County Democrat who heads the subcommittee that handles gaming legislation, said there is not the “will, at least in the House, to expand” gaming in Maryland.

“We made our decisions as to where we want to put our slots locations,” he said. “Until we get those five locations up and running, we won’t be going back to add locations.”

Rosecroft filed for bankruptcy in June 2009, and the track closed a year later. Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc. has previously owned the track, but had to convert from Chapter 11 bankruptcy to Chapter 7, and liquidated the track as its sole asset.

J. Michael Hopkins, director of the Maryland Racing Commission, said if Rosecroft is to have live racing by this fall, it will need to act soon to get a racing license through the commission.

Hopkins said the process usually takes two to four months, depending on quickly plans to reopen live racing are outlined to the commission.

“It’s not new to them,” Hopkins said. “But whoever owns Rosecroft, we look forward to working with anyone who wants to continue on as far as the horse racing industry goes.”

Penn National will also pay $3 million if the General Assembly approves a bond that would help the company finance the track’s operations, said attorney Michael J. Lichtenstein, the Potomac attorney representing the bankruptcy trustee in the case. Lichtenstein declined to disclose the third bidder.

The auction was held at Lichtenstein’s offices, and took three hours after five rounds of bidding, Lichtenstein said.

“From the trustee’s perspective, I think he’s a happy guy,” Lichtenstein said. “You obviously always want more money, but this will hopefully be more employment and good for the racing industry.”

Penn National’s contract is scheduled for approval by Federal Bankruptcy Judge Paul Mannes Feb. 2.
Daily Record Business Staff Writer Nicholas Sohr contributed to this article.

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