In the latest twist for the bankrupt harness track, a former owner of Rosecroft Raceway said Tuesday that he has reached a tentative deal to buy back the financially beleaguered property and he wants to immediately start live racing again.
Greenbelt real estate developer Mark Vogel - who owned Rosecroft for four years before financial troubles forced him to file for bankruptcy protection in 1991 - said he's willing to again take on the risk of trying to make the Prince George's County track viable. His first task would be to bring back live racing, which was discontinued last June, Vogel said Tuesday.
"When I had Rosecroft in the '80s, we raced 150 nights a year. It was one of the premier tracks," he said, while not releasing the details of the deal.
"It's going to be exciting, and I hope to enjoy the whole process," Vogel added, noting that his plans include attracting concerts and other entertainment events as well as eventually bringing casino-type games to the racetrack. Rosecroft is not designated by the state as a location for slot machine gambling.
Any deal would need the approval of the bankruptcy judge.
Kelley Rogers, president of Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., which owns and operates Rosecroft, could not be reached Tuesday to confirm an agreement with Vogel. But in an earlier interview, Rogers said the two parties have been in serious discussions in the past two weeks and that Vogel was "preparing an offer."
Rosecroft, one of two harness tracks in Maryland, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this month, creating renewed concerns for standardbred horsemen, breeders and others in the struggling harness industry.
Rosecroft, which opened in 1949, has had several ownership changes and challenges in the past two decades.
Last year, the track received approval from racing regulators to suspend live racing for up to two years.
And Rosecroft has been mired in a fight with the state's thoroughbred industry - namely the Maryland Jockey Club, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association - over an agreement that requires the track to pay $5.9 million a year to receive simulcast signals for thoroughbred racing. Rosecroft currently owes more than $2 million.
Alan Foreman, attorney for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said any prospective buyer of Rosecroft would have to resolve that dispute. Foreman confirmed that Vogel has been in talks with the state's thoroughbred industry about the simulcasting agreement.
Vogel sought protection from creditors in 1991, four years after buying Rosecroft and Ocean Downs, as his crumbling real estate dealings precipitated his problems with the racetracks. He had fallen behind in loan payments that he owed a bank, which sought foreclosure proceedings but eventually agreed to the bankruptcy filing.
When asked about the track's failure during his tenure, Vogel said: "My racetracks never failed. The racetracks were always successful. What wasn't successful was some of my real estate."
Cloverleaf reported a net loss of $671,999 in 2007, the most recent financial reports submitted to the racing commission, and $567,808 the previous year. Meanwhile, the betting handle at Rosecroft has also fallen quickly from $110 million in 2006 to a projected $70 million this year, according to Rogers.
In April, the racing commission revoked its approval that allowed Rosecroft to receive thoroughbred racing simulcast signals.
John Franzone, chairman of the racing commission, said he'll reserve judgment on whether Vogel would make a good owner because the commission would have to approve the transfer of Rosecroft's racing license to any potential purchaser. But Franzone agreed that Rosecroft and the state's thoroughbred industry must have a simulcast agreement.
For Betsy Brown, a standardbred horseman, trainer and driver who has lived at Rosecroft and stabled her horses there for 20 years, a solution can't come soon enough. When the track suspended live racing last year, Brown and her partners were forced to sell 12 of their 22 horses, cutting her income by more than half. And Brown has been racing out of state like many Maryland-based horsemen and trainers.
"It's a struggle just to make your rent and car payment right now. There is no extra money," said Brown, who was hopeful about a new potential owner. "You try to put money back into the business, but it's impossible when you're not racing here. We're just slowly dying."