Maryland Issues Unresolved as Panel Adjourns

The Maryland Racing Commission adjourned April 21 after two days of hearings without resolving the ownership issue at Rosecroft Raceway or the simulcasting dispute between the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries.

The commission won't decide until it meets again in May whether Northwind Racing is an acceptable buyer for Rosecroft, the struggling harness track in southern Maryland. The panel has set aside two more days--May 11 and 12--to hear scheduled testimony. Management at Rosecroft had hoped for a quick decision on ownership so it could tackle a major financial crisis.

With ownership still uncertain, layoffs of 100 to 125 workers are possible within two weeks.

Meanwhile, the simulcast dispute continues between the Thoroughbred and Standardbred sides. Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park are now closed at night, and Rosecroft is accepting bets only on harness races. Representatives of both sides plan to meet quickly to try to resolve the conflict.

The fight is over simulcast revenue. The current and prospective owners of Rosecroft, as well as the affiliated horsemen and breeders, want to accept bets on Thoroughbred races from around the country without having to compensate the state's Thoroughbred interests. They claim a "free-market" approach is the only way their track can survive and the state's racing industry can grow.

Thoroughbred interests vehemently oppose that claim and say Rosecroft's plan would deprive Thoroughbred interests of $6.5 million a year. In protest, they pulled the plug on Thoroughbred simulcasts at Rosecroft as of April 19 and began closing Pimlico and Laurel at night. Maryland law says that in a dispute over simulcasting, the Standardbred side can shut down the Thoroughbred tracks after 6:15 p.m.

The dispute is an old one. It lay dormant for four years as the two sides operated under a revenue-sharing agreement in which betting revenue was divided 80% to the Thoroughbred side and 20% to the Standardbred side. The agreement expired March 31.

The commission is considering Northwind Racing as the potential owner of Rosecroft. The Northwind principals are Mark Ricigliano, a Maryland businessman and Rosecroft veterinarian, who owns 10%, and Greenwod Racing, which owns 90%. Greenwood owns Philadelphia Park and six off-track betting parlors in Pennsylvania, as well as Atlantic City Race Course and half of Freehold Raceway in New Jersey.