Rosecroft owners invite bids on track

Orioles owner's group, others could make offer on potential slots site

November 08, 2003|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

The owners of Rosecroft Raceway are shopping the Prince George's County track to a group led by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, as well as to a Las Vegas-based casino company and others who have expressed interest in buying it.

Located just across the Potomac River from the nation's capital, Rosecroft is regarded by gambling experts as potentially the most lucrative site in Maryland for a huge slot machine emporium because of its close proximity to Washington and its Virginia and Maryland suburbs.

Angelos was among about 18 businesses and individuals to be sent requests for proposals this week inviting them to bid on Rosecroft.

Angelos said yesterday he is organizing a group of "prominent business people" who are interested in bidding on the harness racing track, but that he probably won't be personally involved. His son, Lou, previously tried to acquire the track.

Rosecroft is back on the market because a prospective buyer, Indiana-based Centaur Inc., failed to meet a Nov. 1 deadline to buy the track.

Centaur officials contend the deadline hasn't elapsed. They say that they still hold exclusive rights to buy Rosecroft and vow to wage a vigorous court battle to protect their interests.

Rosecroft is owned by Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., a group owned by harness-horse owners, trainers and drivers,

Thomas Chuckas Jr., Cloverleaf's chief executive officer, said that the company is seeking a buyer for Rosecroft but declined to identify who was invited to bid. A copy of the bid packet obtained by The Sun indicates that Cloverleaf is seeking a percentage of slots revenue in any deal with a buyer.

"We distributed RFPs [requests for proposals] to about 18 corporations and individuals who have expressed an interest in buying the racetrack," Chuckas said. "You can safely say that there is both local interest and out-of-state interest."

The bid document that Cloverleaf sent to prospective buyers sets a Nov. 21 deadline for submitting proposals and says a buyer will be selected by the middle of next month.

"We obviously believe this next legislative session is going to be of critical importance," Chuckas said. "We have a clear indication that there is significant interest and people are obviously considering making a bid."

The General Assembly plans to consider legalizing slot machine gambling at racetracks and possibly at other sites when it meets early next year. A bill to allow slots only at tracks was defeated this year.

Angelos declined to identify the business people he is putting together to bid on Rosecroft. His son, Lou, made a last-minute bid to acquire Rosecroft last year in a competition won by Centaur.

"The specific people who will be involved hasn't been decided yet," Angelos said. "It's very likely that we'll bid, though it is not absolute."

Angelos said the rules of Major League Baseball do not allow him to be directly involved as the owner of a casino-style gambling operation. "I personally may not be involved, but that doesn't preclude me from putting together a group," he said.

Several others are eyeing Rosecroft.

Officials with Las Vegas-based Ameristar Casinos said they contacted Cloverleaf to get a bid packet after learning the track was on the market.

"We have an interest in opportunities in the Baltimore area and in Maryland if gaming should come," said Steven Eisner, vice president of development for Ameristar. "It's something we're evaluating, along with other options. We do not know at this point if we're going to put in a bid."

Ameristar recently proposed building a full-scale casino in Baltimore, complete with table games, but Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and legislative leaders quickly shot down that idea.

Others who are known to be interested in Rosecroft include Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, based in Washington.

Through a spokeswoman, Johnson said he has not received an invitation to bid on the harness racing track and would not comment further.

John R. Stierhoff, a lobbyist for Winbak Farm in Cecil County, said that farm owner Joseph Thomson is considering bidding for Rosecroft.

The farm, which covers 2,000 acres, is the second-largest Standardbred horse breeding operation in North America, Stierhoff said.

"Winbak Farm has made an offer in the past to purchase Rosecroft," Stierhoff said. "Winbak has a substantial investment and interest in the racing industry in the state, regardless of whether [slots] come to Rosecroft."

Officials with Delaware North Companies, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based conglomerate and one-time business partner of Centaur, also confirmed it is considering making a bid for Rosecroft.

A Pennsylvania company that owns racetracks in suburban Philadelphia and Atlantic City, and a Biloxi, Miss.-based casino company also have expressed interest in Rosecroft and got bid packets, sources said.

The bid packet requests include "additional gaming revenue" to Cloverleaf - presumably from slots - along with guarantees on purses, which is the money that is paid to the owners of top-finishing horses.

Cloverleaf also asks prospective buyers to detail the number of race days they would conduct each year.

In its deal, Centaur had agreed to pay Cloverleaf $55 million over a period of years for Rosecroft. Centaur agreed to make a $2.5 million deposit that was to be forfeited if it failed to buy the track by Nov. 1.

Centaur contends the deadline doesn't apply because of unresolved issues before the Maryland Racing Commission, the regulatory agency that oversees horse racing.

Commission officials rejected Centaur's petition, saying it was an attempt to "artificially extend" the deadline to buy the track.

"I think they nailed it right on the head," said Chuckas.

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