The financially strapped owner of Maryland's two harness tracks has asked the state racing commission for help.
It is the latest maneuver in what has been called a high-level chess game played out by Mark Vogel, owner of Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs; the commission, which regulates the racing industry; the bank that holds the mortgage on the tracks; and the thousands of employees, trainers and jockeys involved.
Vogel appeared before the commission Wednesday night to ask them to release $25,000 from track funds so that he could hire attorneys to help him come up with refinancing plans for the tracks.
In October, Vogel, who has faced a financial crisis in several of his real estate development dealings, had put the tracks up for sale. But apparently he has found no one willing to pay his asking price of about $22.5 million and has decided to try to keep them.
Independent industry analysts have put the value of the tracks at between $15 million and $18 million. But Vogel is said to owe about $15 million from the purchase of the tracks and other expenditures.
The commissioners asked for and are expected to receive today a written request from Vogel outlining the kind of refinancing deal he is hoping to make and his contingency plans if they do not grant him the money. They are expected to look over the information and decide at a regularly scheduled commission meeting next Wednesday if they will give him the funds.
The commission took over day-to-day operation of the tracks earlier this fall when Vogel fell behind in making purse payments to horsemen and other creditors, including the state.
Vogel must get permission from the commission for any large expenses other than what it takes to run the daily operation of the tracks, which are now on a three-week winter break.
Vogel had diverted funds from the track to help cover expenses in several failing real estate ventures. He still owes the state well over $300,000 and is said to still be about two weeks behind in paying horsemen their purses and maintaining premiums on their health insurance.
Commission member Allan Levey, who is one of two commissioners especially appointed to oversee the Rosecroft situation, said the board must decide if helping Vogel is in the best interests of the whole industry.
"Why should we give him $25,000 when he owes the horsemen money and when he owes the state money? We have to look at everything he wants to do. The bottom line is do what is most important for all the people that make their livelihood from harness racing."
There has been speculation, raised by Vogel himself in an interview yesterday in the Washington Post, that he is negotiating to sell a quarter interest in the track. The buyer is assumed to be Washington Redskins offensive lineman Mark May, who operates a stable of harness horses including Charlie Ten Hitch, recently voted the nation's second best 2-year-old trotter. May could not be reached for comment, but whether he would be putting up what is said to be about $3 million for an interest at this point remains speculation.
Alan Foreman, a Baltimore attorney who represents a group of harness industry investors, said his group had made a concrete offer to Vogel to buy the track. He has had two meetings with Vogel, but said yesterday that he had no comment on any of the negotiations. "I think Mark's statement [in the Washington Post] speaks for itself," Foreman said. "He [Vogel] said he will reject the offers that he has had. But so far, he has not rejected my offer. I have not heard from him."
Other industry insiders are wondering why Vogel needs as much as $25,000 to pay lawyers to negotiate new loans to keep the tracks solvent. Instead, they feel, $25,000 is the basic fee attorneys charge to file bankruptcy proceedings. It is a step Vogel has yet to make, but which many observers feel could be possible.