MGM Resorts International has won a three-way race for a license to build a resort casino in Prince George's County, Md., just south of Washington, D.C. And the future of a racetrack remains up in the air.
The Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission awarded the license on a 5-2 vote Dec. 20. The other candidates for the casino were Maryland Casino, a subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based Greenwood Racing, and Penn National Gaming Inc., which hoped to build the complex at Rosecroft Raceway.
MGM was considered the front-runner for the gaming license, which was created via legislation that expanded gaming offerings at the state's existing casinos. Prince George's County voters then approved the casino in a local referendum.
According to local news reports, the MGM casino can't open for 30 months after the under-construction Harrah's casino in Baltimore opens, most likely next year.
The PNGI casino plan was the only one tied to horse racing. The company, which owns Hollywood Casino Perryville in northeastern Maryland, purchased Rosecroft Raceway in a bankruptcy auction and returned live harness racing to the facility in 2011.
The track offered two meets for a total of 54 days this year and applied for the same number of days for 2014. PNGI, the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, and the Maryland Standardbred Breeders Association have a live-racing contract through 2014 with extension options through 2016.
PNGI has long argued a casino is necessary to Rosecroft's long-term survival. The facility also serves as a key year-round simulcast location for Maryland Thoroughbred racing.
In a Dec. 21 letter to Rosecroft employees and horsemen, Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for PNGI, said the company is disappointed with the result of the casino license award given PNGI's proposal to "save racing in Maryland" and make funding commitments to education and health care in Prince George's County.
"As we have stated throughout this process, Rosecroft's longer-term viability will continue to be evaluated," McErlean said in the letter. "In conjunction with the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, we have worked to build a competitive racing program at Rosecroft with increased purses and increasing benefits to Maryland-based horses and horsemen while providing employment opportunities for county and state residents.
"However, the future placement of a billion-dollar gaming facility just miles from Rosecroft's front door will present significant challenges in maintaining the positive momentum we have developed in the past few years in restoring stability for employees and horsemen."
Though the pari-mutuel business has been slow to rebound at Rosecroft, which was closed for a few years before PNGI reopened it, the racing program there benefits from video lottery terminals at casinos in Maryland. The Standardbred industry gets a 20% cut of the 7% in revenue for horse racing and breeding.
The VLT revenue has enabled Rosecroft to raise purses each year since 2011. Though Casino Ocean Downs is also a harness track in Maryland, it offers fewer dates than Rosecroft each year.