Bally official gets impatient with horsemen He says harness owners don't realize necessity to resolve track questions

November 01, 1996|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

The casino operator whose bailout proposal for the state's harness tracks was rejected by track owners this week will continue to talk to them, but is losing patience with the process.

"I'm searching around to see if there is some way to rectify this and help them out of a situation they don't seem to grasp," said Bernard Murphy, vice president of corporate affairs for Chicago-based Bally Entertainment Inc.

Bally loaned the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, the group that represents harness horse owners and trainers in the Mid-Atlantic, more than $10 million last year to buy the Rosecroft and Ocean Downs race tracks. The horsemen bought the tracks when previous owners announced they would be shut down.

The tracks have continued to lose money and Bally proposed to pay the horsemen $1 million for Ocean Downs and run it as a training center for at least two years. Bally also would have canceled about $1 million in interest on the remaining loan and returned the operation of Rosecroft to Cloverleaf.

The deal would give the tracks badly needed breathing room -- Cloverleaf says the tracks will be insolvent by the end of the year -- and would give Bally the right to buy 65 percent of Rosecroft in the event Maryland legalizes slot machines at racetracks, as Delaware has.

Along with Ocean Downs, Bally would have two strategically valuable sites if slots came to Maryland.

Horsemen, deeply skeptical of Bally's intentions, rejected the proposal Tuesday and asked the board of directors to resume negotiating with Bally. The directors are scheduled to meet again on Nov. 12 to formulate a counterproposal and have asked Murphy to come.

Murphy said he is willing to consider an offer, but wants to stick to the basic structure of the rejected proposal. He has not decided whether he will attend the Nov. 12 meeting.

"I'm not tearing up this agreement and starting over," Murphy said. "That's not fair. If they've got a modification and it's reasonable I'll take a look. I'm a reasonable guy."

Murphy declined to say what Bally would do if no agreement is reached, or if it is considering foreclosing on the loan.

"I truly don't know the answer to that but I would say we're exploring all of our options," he said.

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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