Northwind denied in Rosecroft bid

Simulcast revenue plan seen as `devastating,' dooming $10 million offer

Horse Racing

May 12, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

Concerned that it was not in the best interest of racing in the state, the Maryland Racing Commission yesterday overwhelmingly rejected Northwind Racing's $10 million bid to purchase Rosecroft Raceway.

The commission, meeting for a third day on the application, which was fronted by Laurel businessman and Laurel veterinarian Mark Ricigliano, voted 6-1, with one abstention, to deny Northwind's application.

In December, the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, a group of nearly 1,000 horse owners, trainers and drivers that owns Rosecroft, voted to sell the struggling Prince George's County harness track to Northwind. Ricigliano would have owned 10 percent of Rosecroft. The rest would have been owned by his partner in Northwind, Greenwood Racing Inc., owner of Philadelphia Park.

Meanwhile, the commission took no action on the continuing simulcast dispute between the state's thoroughbred and standardbred sides, which has seen Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park closed at night and Rosecroft accepting bets only on harness races since April 19.

A deal on how to split the revenue from simulcasting, which gave 80 percent to the thoroughbred industry and 20 percent to harness industry, expired March 31, and the two sides have not been able to reach a new agreement.

A major part of Northwind's proposal to buy Rosecroft centered on the commission giving it the freedom to accept bets on thoroughbred races from around the country without any compensation to the state's thoroughbred interests.

Racing commissioner John B. Franzone said he thought giving Northwind that freedom would "be devastating to the thoroughbred industry."

"I don't think it's in the best interest of racing in Maryland," he said. "I don't think they proved their case."

Thomas F. Chuckas Jr., chief executive officer at Rosecroft, said he was disappointed in the vote and would take the next couple of days to review the situation.

"We are going to take a step back, take a look at everything that transpired and basically sit down and discuss what all our options are," he said. "It would be premature for me to talk today, without talking to the board, about what exactly will or won't transpire."

Before accepting Northwind's bid, Cloverleaf turned down offers from Las Vegas casino giant Harrah's Entertainment, a group headed by the son of Orioles managing partner Peter G. Angelos, and Laurel and Pimlico parent Magna Entertainment Corp.

Northwind could appeal yesterday's ruling in court, but attorney Robert A. Johnson said he didn't think it could be done within the contract's Saturday deadline.

In more than six hours of testimony yesterday, representatives from all three groups of the state's thoroughbred industry that often are at odds - the Maryland Jockey Club, the horsemen and the breeders - painted a bleak picture of what would happen if the commission granted Northwind free access to their signal.

"It would result in the economic transfer from the thoroughbred industry to the harness industry of $8 million," said jockey club chief executive Joe De Francis.

Said Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association: "We have always been willing to share the revenue. We have never been willing to give up the revenue."

After the vote, De Francis said he wasn't surprised by the 6-1 margin.

"We saw nothing in their proposal for any specific plans to grow racing, improve racing," he said. "It was simply let us have the unfettered right to take thoroughbred simulcast, which we the thoroughbred industry, as all the industry representatives testified, have spent a lot of time, energy and money building up, and take advantage of all that effort and exploit it for the harness industry. It wasn't fair, and I think the commission reached the right decision."

De Francis also said he was eager to get a new simulcast agreement in place.

"Everybody is losing a lot of money," he said. "It's bad for all segments of the industry, it's bad for the fans. We would be hopeful that we could accelerate those negotiations."

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