Harness Racing on the Brink

September 27, 1990

Maryland's harness-racing industry is on the brink -- through no fault of its own. Because the state legislature and Maryland Racing Commission have permitted a monopolistic situation to develop, horsemen and track workers are holding their breath, awaiting the outcome of track owner Mark R. Vogel's criminal and business calamities.

Mr. Vogel, a wealthy real estate developer in the Washington suburbs, has been charged in Virginia with cocaine possession as part of a federal probe of politically connected lawyers and developers in Prince George's County.

Should Mr. Vogel be convicted, the Racing Commission could revoke or suspend his authority to run harness racing at his two tracks, Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill and Delmarva Downs near Ocean City.

But there is an even greater worry: a bank takeover of Rosecroft as Mr. Vogel's woes worsen. The Racing Commission has forced the owner to relinquish daily fiscal control of his tracks after Mr. Vogel used track funds to cover other debts. He also owes $600,000 in unpaid federal taxes, has defaulted on a $4 million mortgage debt and pledged track proceeds as collateral for a bank loan on his $400 million Bowie New Town Center.

A collapse of Mr. Vogel's real estate empire would place Rosecroft, Ocean Downs and Maryland's harness-racing industry in jeopardy. When a special legislative committee meets today, it should explore ways to avert a shutdown of the harness racing track. Thousands of people depend on the harness races for their livelihoods. Their interests must be protected.

At the same time, legislators and the governor ought to face up to the fact that private monopolies of Maryland racing days hold potential danger. So does the Racing Commission's lack of a mandate to tightly control all track finances. Mr. Vogel's folly has exposed serious weaknesses in the state's oversight of the racing industry. Failure to correct those flaws would be an even greater folly.

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