Baltimore lawyer and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos faces potential competition from other bidders interested in buying bankrupt Rosecroft Raceway as well as opposition from state officials to legalizing slot machines at the Prince George's County horse track.
Gov. Martin O'Malley said Wednesday that he is focused on getting slots casinos at the five locations approved by voters in 2008 up and running "before we talk about expanding" gambling at other places. And despite Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's support for slots at the Rosecroft harness racetrack, other state lawmakers might not be ready to reopen the debate.
A number of potential buyers were outbid by Angelos in a previous round, but they could still take part in a proposed auction this month. Angelos agreed to pay $9 million in cash, plus another $5 million if slots are permitted in Prince George's County and a Rosecroft casino is operational by Dec. 1, 2012, according to court documents filed this week.
On Wednesday, Greenbelt real estate developer Mark Vogel, who previously owned Rosecroft Raceway, said he is "definitely making a bid" for Rosecroft but is not interested in putting slots there.
Any new bid must be at least $550,000 higher to qualify in an auction against Angelos' "stalking horse," or lead bid, said Michael J. Lichtenstein, a Potomac attorney representing the bankruptcy trustee in the Rosecroft case. The auction and any final purchase agreement would need bankruptcy court approval.
"We're anticipating others to show up," Lichtenstein said. "The idea is to get as many bidders as possible."
The interest surrounding Rosecroft represents a change of fortune. The harness track filed for bankruptcy in June 2009 and operated as an off-track betting site for two years before closing in July.
Under new ownership, the track could reinstitute live racing. Angelos, who could not be reached for comment, said in court papers that he would apply for a license with the Maryland Racing Commission with the goal of restarting live racing this fall. Vogel also has said he would resume live racing.
While racing boosters have said they would welcome other forms of gambling to attract more visitors and bolster the track's financial health, such efforts have failed before.
Several Prince George's officials opposed slots in the county when debating legislation that sent the issue to voters in a November 2008 referendum. Last year, the state legislature rejected a bill sought by Rosecroft to legalize poker and other table games there. A proposal to expand gambling at Rosecroft could be a hard sell again.
"I don't think there will be any appetite in Prince George's County to put slots there," said Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, a Prince George's County Democrat and chairman of the county delegation. He said the state needs to focus on its existing slots program.
For his part, Vogel contends that "slots is not the way to go for Rosecroft."
Vogel and Angelos have tried unsuccessfully to buy Rosecroft in the past. In fact, the track has had a series of almost-owners during its financially troubled history.
In 2005, the Angelos family agreed to buy Rosecroft, but the deal fell through as prospects for legalizing slots there dimmed. Because Peter Angelos, a thoroughbred horse owner, is prohibited from having a direct ownership stake in a gambling enterprise under rules governing Major League Baseball, the purchase was to be made in his wife's name.
This time, the proposed ownership and management structure under Angelos at Rosecroft was unclear in court documents.
In 2007, after agreeing to buy the track, casino operator Penn National Gaming dropped its bid when the track was not designated as a site for slot machines. Penn National co-owns Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course and owns the Hollywood Casino Perryville, the first slots parlor to open in Maryland.
Asked whether Penn National is interested in bidding on Rosecroft again, spokesman Eric Schippers said Wednesday that the company "can't comment on potential new business opportunities we may or may not be pursuing."
Shortly after filing for bankruptcy two years ago, Rosecroft parent Cloverleaf Enterprises agreed to sell the track to Vogel, but the deal was rejected by a bankruptcy judge. Vogel holds an equity stake in the racetrack's mortgage notes.
Tom Cooke, president of Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners' Association, which owns Rosecroft parent Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., said he hopes the deal with Angelos goes through, citing the lawyer's "solid reputation" as a businessman and leader.
"We've been to the altar many times and we've been stood up many times," Cooke said. "We look forward to consummating this marriage at the earliest possible time."
Expanding slots gambling in Maryland would be a difficult task. Legalizing slots at any new location would require that voters approve another amendment to the state constitution.