Bally's, Cloverleaf reach deal Harness group rejects Rickman buyout offer

December 14, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc. reached an agreement yesterday with casino giant Bally's Inc. that includes the sale of Ocean Downs and a change of management at Rosecroft Raceway.

Just 24 hours earlier, Cloverleaf, an organization of harness horsemen, had rejected a scheduled deposit from William Rickman Jr., owner of Delaware Park, to purchase both tracks after its board had voted unanimously to accept Rickman's buyout.

The agreement with Bally's removes the threat of possible legal action by the casino firm had the horsemen sold to Rickman.

Under the terms of the deal, Bally's surrendered management of Rosecroft to an interim three-man oversight team of Cloverleaf directors -- Gerald Brittingham, Wayne Lynch and Don Wares -- effective with last night's card.

Cloverleaf has been disenchanted with Bally's management of the tracks for the past 1 1/2 years and will undertake a search for a new, permanent general manager.

"Now, we have control of our own destiny," said Brittingham, the Cloverleaf president.

Bally's agreed to forgive Cloverleaf $1.44 million in debt service in exchange for an option to buy an additional 15 percent of Rosecroft if casino gambling comes to Maryland.

Bally's already has a 50 percent option under the 1995 accord that included a $10.6 million loan to Cloverleaf to purchase the two Maryland tracks.

Cloverleaf would maintain approval over several major racing-related issues even if Bally's exercises the option and becomes the majority stockholder at Rosecroft.

Ocean Downs, the standardbred track near Ocean City, will be purchased by Bally's for $2 million. That includes $1 million in reduction of Cloverleaf's debt load and $1 million in cash.

The casino company has agreed to keep Ocean Downs open as a training center and to conduct 45 days of live racing there if legislative relief occurs.

The two sides have been exchanging proposals for more than two months, but the negotiations turned sour this week and Cloverleaf turned to Rickman, who offered $13.5 million to buy both tracks outright.

"We thought we'd be settling with Rickman," said Brittingham. "But Bally's had been negotiating with our attorneys behind the scenes. They went back and agreed to our final offer. Now, there is relief only in that the deal is done. We have a long road ahead."

Cloverleaf management wanted a business plan formulated for Thursday's hearing before the Maryland Racing Commission, which will investigate $3 million in losses by the state's harness industry in the last two years.

Joe De Francis, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, took a cautious approach toward the deal.

"I need more information before making a complete reaction," he said. "But if this transaction will help to maintain the viability of Rosecroft, it is good news."

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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