Rosecroft layoffs might follow cuts at Pimlico, Laurel

100-125 additional jobs endangered by dispute

Horse Racing

April 21, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

NORTH EAST - Rosecroft Raceway might lay off 100 to 125 employees within two weeks, and Pimlico and Laurel Park have already laid off 20 to 25 workers as the result of a dispute over simulcast revenues, heads of the tracks said yesterday.

News of the layoffs emerged during the Maryland Racing Commission's contentious hearing of Northwind Racing's application to buy Rosecroft, a harness track in Prince George's County. The commission met at the North East Racing and Sports Club - the former Poor Jimmy's OTB - and will resume the hearing this morning at Pimlico.

The crux of Northwind's application is that the commission allow it free access to simulcasts of thoroughbred races around the country. In the past, Rosecroft has had to buy the simulcasts from the state's thoroughbred interests. An agreement between the two sides expired March 31, prompting the renewal of an old battle.

As of Monday, the thoroughbred breeders and horsemen and the Maryland Jockey Club banned Rosecroft from showing and taking bets on any thoroughbred races. Also, Pimlico and Laurel Park began closing at night because state law says that in a dispute over simulcasting, the standardbred side can shut down the thoroughbred tracks after 6:15 p.m.

Tom Chuckas Jr., president and CEO of Rosecroft, said he would probably have to lay off workers to avoid bankruptcy. Rosecroft can now accept bets only on harness races, and, Chuckas said, "Harness and harness only, I can't go forward."

Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said the layoffs at Pimlico and Laurel Park were the result of being closed at night.

Meanwhile, the thoroughbred interests vigorously opposed Northwind's application to buy Rosecroft because of Northwind's intention to offer betting on thoroughbred simulcasts without compensating the state's thoroughbred industry and to develop off-track-betting facilities and a telephone-betting system that could siphon business from the thoroughbred side.

Mark Ricigliano, a Laurel businessman and Rosecroft veterinarian, owns 10 percent of Northwind. Greenwood Racing controls 90 percent. It owns Philadelphia Park and six OTBs in Pennsylvania, the PhoneBet account-wagering system and Atlantic City Race Track in New Jersey. It also has a half-interest in Freehold, a harness track in New Jersey.

Marty Jacobs, lawyer for the Maryland Jockey Club, said the thoroughbred tracks, breeders and horsemen would lose $6.5 million a year if Rosecroft was allowed free access to thoroughbred simulcasts.

Bob Green, chairman of Greenwood Racing, countered that the status quo of conflict and lack of progress "has done Maryland a disservice. It seems to me crazy that we can't get on and grow the business."

As if the issues weren't provocative enough, Terry Saxon, a member of the commission, accused the three thoroughbred owners on the commission - Al Akman, John Franzone and Lou Ulman - of being so pro-thoroughbred that "there's no way the standardbred industry can get a fair hearing before this commission."

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