Good news from Penn National

May 10, 2011

We on the editorial page have been strongly critical of Penn National since its entree into Maryland horse racing last year on the grounds that we believed they were interested solely in finding a way to bring slots to the tracks -- or block competition for their existing casinos nearby -- rather than actually making a go of horse racing. Fairness dictates, then, that we make note of the company's application this week for a license to resume harness racing at Rosecroft Raceway, which Penn National bought at auction in January for $11 million. The company plans to run 20 race days this year and 50 next year, assuming it gets a license, which seems likely.

Also of note is its effort to expand simulcasting year-round at the facility. That's the lifeblood, such as it is, of racetracks these days, and a dispute between Rosecroft and the Maryland Jockey Club, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association over simulcasting fees had helped accelerate the end of operations at the track. Given that Penn National is still a 49-percent owner of the Jockey Club, this would seem resolvable, but the bad blood between the giant gaming company and Frank Stronach, who owns the rest, may make that harder than it seems.

The resurrection of Rosecroft may not last long -- a Penn National spokesman told The Sun's Andrea Walker this week that the track will still need slots eventually, and the odds of Maryland voters approving an expansion of casino gambling to Rosecroft anytime soon may be remote. But for now, at least, Penn National is making good on its promise to resume live racing, and it deserves some credit for that.

--Andrew A. Green

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