Indiana-based Centaur Inc. announced yesterday that it has signed a new partner to help it buy Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County.
The partner, Carl D. Jones, a politically connected businessman from Prince George's County, would own 52 percent of the harness track if state regulators approve the plan.
Located just off the Capital Beltway in Oxon Hill, Rosecroft is a potentially lucrative site for a racetrack casino if Maryland approves slot machine gambling next year.
Centaur's deal with Jones, who is black, could help draw political support from African-American legislators who have called for a significant minority ownership interest in any slots ventures.
Jones is a former owner of a road-paving company and is now in the waste-hauling business. He has longtime close ties with influential black political figures in Prince George's.
Jeffrey Smith, Centaur's chief executive officer, said the company had always expected to have minority investors at Rosecroft.
"Mr. Jones is a very successful businessman and is a respected member of the business community in Prince George's County and has contributed significantly in terms of his time and talents to the community there," Smith said. "We're pleased to have him involved in our project."
The deal requires that both Centaur and a company formed by Jones -- the Palace at Rosecroft LLC -- put up about equal amounts to buy the harness track.
Centaur has exclusive rights to buy the track from its current owners, Cloverleaf Enterprises, for $55 million. But their deal is set to expire Nov. 1.
The purchase also has to be reviewed and approved by the Maryland Racing Commission. Centaur submitted an application late Thursday with the proposed new ownership structure.
John Franzone, who serves on the commission, said he sees little chance the application can be handled before the deadline.
"Saddam Hussein will win the Democratic primary before we hear this thing by Nov. 1," Franzone said. "It ain't going to happen."
Centaur -- which stands to forfeit a $2.5 million deposit if it fails to meet the deadline -- has not approached the owners of Rosecroft for an extension.
"There has been no request from Centaur for an extension," said Tom Chuckas, chief executive of Cloverleaf.
He said he wasn't in a position to say what Cloverleaf -- a group owned by harness-horse owners, trainers and drivers -- would do if an extension were sought. He said many questions remain unanswered.
"At the appropriate time we would take the appropriate actions," Chuckas said. "Obviously, the more expeditiously the sale situation at Rosecroft can be resolved, the better it is for all parties involved."
Jones, the new Centaur partner, did not respond to telephone calls yesterday seeking comment.
Centaur's Smith said that Jones "has the flexibility" to bring in other partners if he chooses.
"Right now, it's just Carl Jones who is our partner," Smith said. "His financing is an issue you'd have to take to him about."
Jones told The Sun this week that he wasn't sure he was going to become involved in the Rosecroft venture. He said he was worried the financial risks were too high because there is no guarantee that Maryland will legalize slots next year or -- if it does -- that Rosecroft would get them.