Uncertainty grows for track ownership

Winning Rosecroft bidder gives 90% ownership to rejected company

Indiana lawsuit to proceed

February 28, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The Laurel businessman trying to buy Rosecroft Raceway has brought in the owner of Philadelphia Park as a 90 percent partner, throwing future control of the embattled harness track in Prince George's County into controversy and further uncertainty.

The partnership was revealed yesterday when portions of Mark Ricigliano's application with the Maryland Racing Commission were released to the public. Ricigliano, who owns a telecommunications firm and is a racetrack veterinarian, beat out several other bidders for the right to buy Rosecroft.

One of the losing suitors was Greenwood Racing Inc., which owns the Philadelphia Park horse track. That was the second time in recent years that the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, which owns Rosecroft, had rejected a Greenwood bid.

The revelation that Greenwood could become majority owner of the harness track troubled the chairman of the racing commission, the panel that must approve any deal for the racetrack. Rosecroft could become a site for slot machines, although its chances have diminished with recent events in Annapolis.

"The flip-flop in ownership is a matter of some concern," Tom McDonough, chairman of the racing commission, said yesterday. "I'm getting a lot of questions from people about why the deal was originally presented as something other than what it turned out to be.

"People are concerned about Philadelphia Park getting in the back door after originally being rejected at the front door. Those are troubling issues."

Rosecroft faced trouble yesterday on another front after a Maryland judge issued a ruling further clouding the ownership issue. Prince George's Circuit Judge Michele D. Hotten ruled that a suit filed against Rosecroft by Centaur Racing that disputes track ownership should proceed in Indiana, where it was filed.

In 2002, the owners of Rosecroft decided to sell their track to Centaur, an Indiana gaming company. When Centaur didn't close the deal on time, Rosecroft reopened the bidding process and eventually selected Ricigliano as potential owner. Centaur filed suit in Indiana against Rosecroft, claiming that Centaur maintains the right to buy the track. Rosecroft tried to block the suit by going to court in Maryland.

Representatives of Rosecroft could not be reached for comment about yesterday's ruling or Ricigliano's filing with the racing commission. Ricigliano said he didn't know how the case in Indiana would affect the sale.

"We'll just sit and wait," he said.

The filing made public yesterday revealed that Ricigliano's bid for the track, accepted by the Cloverleaf board of directors in December, was $10 million. That includes Rosecroft's $5.2 million mortgage, which Ricigliano has paid off and now holds, a $2 million deposit and a $2.8 million payment at closing.

The contract stipulates that closing take place by March 31 but provides for a 45-day extension if the racing commission doesn't approve the Greenwood-Ricigliano application by the end of March. To make that deadline, the commission would have to approve the application at its March 9 meeting. McDonough, commission chairman, said that is unlikely.

Ricigliano said he intended all along to ask Greenwood, which operates off-track betting parlors in Pennsylvania and a lucrative telephone-betting system, to help him develop OTBs and a telephone-betting network for Rosecroft. But he didn't initially plan on taking Greenwood as a majority partner, he said.

He originally planned on buying Rosecroft with his partners in LightWave Communications, his Laurel telephone company, he said. But after Rosecroft's owners put deadlines on the deal - Feb. 17 for filing an application with the racing commission and March 31 for closing - Ricigliano said he looked for a deep-pocketed partner already licensed to operate a racetrack to speed up the licensing process.

"Greenwood's basically in for support," Ricigliano said. "The racetrack has to go on with or without slots. I'm still president of the company. I'm still responsible for it."

The prospect of Rosecroft's getting slots dimmed yesterday after the Senate passed a slots bill that appears to leave out Rosecroft and another harness track. If Rosecroft should get slots, then Ricigliano will meet the stipulation in the deal saying he must reserve a 20 percent share for minority investors.

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