Horse Racing: Rosecroft Raceway shutting down, future of Standardbred racing in Maryland looks grim

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SETH KENT

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Horse Racing News
  • Horse Racing: Rosecroft Raceway shutting down, future of Standardbred racing in Maryland looks grim

Horse Racing: Rosecroft Raceway shutting down, future of Standardbred racing in Maryland looks grim

 

After 61 years the end is near for Rosecroft Raceway. Built in 1949, Rosecroft is Maryland’s oldest harness race track. Last bets were taken on Sunday as officials announced the track would be closed by the first of July. Rosecroft had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 after it failed to make payments to thoroughbred interests for simulcast transmissions of thoroughbred racing, a payment of $5.9 million annually of which $1.8 million were due at the time Rosecroft filed for bankruptcy.

 

Harness racing on the track had stopped in 2008 when the lesser popular racing event consistently failed to collect enough revenue to cover the costs of holding the events. Since then Rosecroft has been serving effectively just as an off-track betting site for thoroughbred races showed through a simulcast feed at the racetrack. However the track continued to lose money. In the end the simulcast signal proved unable to keep Rosecroft from going under.

 

Rosecroft employed 200 people and has earned its place in Maryland history. There are those who feel that the state did not stand behind Rosecroft and that the Maryland Harness Racing has been forsaken to its fate. Harsh statements about the Governor’s office’s unwillingness to address the issue surfaced. “They talk about ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ and when the Preakness and Pimlico were in trouble, the governor and others ran downstairs to save them,” Sen. C. Anthony Muse told the press. “It just makes me sick. It really does,” President of Cloverleaf, Rosecroft’s parent company, Kelly Rogers said. “The Legislature sat on their butt and didn’t do anything to save these jobs.”

 

Perhaps in an effort to allay those concerns Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s office has been trying to facilitate talks between the stakeholders. There has been an overall positive reaction to Governor O’Malley’s interest in the matter, but cautious optimism. Even Kelly Rogers said that he was “excited” that the Governor would put his weight behind efforts to save the Maryland Harness industry.

 

Officials representing Rosecroft spoke with stakeholders and in a statement said that the parties involved had an open mind towards coming to a solution and reconciling their respective interests.

 

Track officials said that their financial arrangement was simply unfeasible and without a different financial model, the track couldn’t have survived. Kelly Rogers in April made a statement to the Maryland Racing Commission clarifying that the $5.9 million amount for the simulcast feed was unaffordable and that Rosecroft could pay a maximum of 2 million dollars for it. Following failure to pay their dues, The Maryland Jockey Club and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s association moved to terminate the feed to the Thoroughbred races that were telecast in Rosecroft Raceway. Richard Hoffberger, president of the Maryland thoroughbred group made it clear that harsh measures had to be taken because Rosecroft didn’t honor its commitments. "We had a deal. We had a contract," Hoffberger said.

 

“Our long struggle is finally over and we have come to an end. Unfortunately, despite all of our best efforts we could not escape the unreasonable demands of the thoroughbred industry and they have succeeded in putting us out of business...their goal finally accomplished” Mr. Rogers said in a memo posted online at their website. He even suggested that the domination of Thoroughbred interests in Maryland Racing Commission also hastened their demise.

 

Rosecroft hedged its salvation in slot machines and poker. Legislation was proposed in this year’s General Assembly session that would have legalized and brought these games and the added revenue to Rosecroft Raceway. The bill was passed in the Senate but couldn’t go through a House Committee.

 

Developer Mark Vogel who offered to buy the track commissioned a feasibility report according to which Rosecroft could have generated 42 million dollars in gaming revenues annually and created 1500 union jobs.

 

Tom Cooke of the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association acknowledged that plans to include gaming at the Rosecroft Raceway progressed slowly but emphasized that cutting the simulcast signal was the "coup de grace to standardbred racing in Maryland." With only one harness track operating in Maryland after Rosecraft shuts down operation, it would seem he may have been right.

 

 

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