The family of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos signed an agreement yesterday to purchase Rosecroft Raceway, a financially struggling harness racing track in Prince George's County, an Angelos spokesman said.
In the view of several officials reached yesterday, the deal would enhance the likelihood that Maryland would adopt slot machine gambling -- at Rosecroft and at other venues across the state.
The horses make their way along the backstretch on a racing day at Rosecroft. The track is selling for $13 million.
(Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
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Officials also said it could give a boost to the track, the county's economy and the state's racing industry.
Questions were raised, however, about possible effects on the National Harbor development on the Potomac River, a second Prince George's site considered to be a candidate for slot machines.
Angelos's wife and a son agreed to pay $13 million for the track, according to Gerard E. Evans, the Annapolis lobbyist who represented the Angelos family in the matter. The price is the same as that reportedly offered last summer when negotiations collapsed.
Angelos, a prominent lawyer, would serve as an unpaid adviser to his family's track operation, Evans said.
Franklin Goldstein, an attorney for the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, a group of horsemen who race at Rosecroft, confirmed the sale last night. Rosecroft is operated by a subsidiary of the horsemen's group.
"I think the horsemen should be ecstatic," Goldstein said. "I know I am."
He said the Angelos family had "the wherewithal and business knowledge" to make this a "very successful operation." That, he said, would help the horsemen make a better living, and as purses rose, breeders also would benefit by an increase in the value of foals.
This arrangement apparently would satisfy the regulations of Major League Baseball. League spokesman Rich Levin said last night that a team owner is not permitted to have gambling interests. He said baseball requirements would be met by an arrangement under which Angelos was not an owner of record of the track, and his family members were not owners of the Orioles.
The deal also must meet the approval of the state racing commission. Its chairman, Thomas F. McDonough, expressed satisfaction last night about the purchase.
"I am happy that someone of that stature has stepped in" to the situation at Rosecroft, which he said "has been an unstable [one] for much too long."
He said he was notified yesterday of the agreement through a voice mail from an Angelos representative. Most officials of the group that owns the track could not be reached after word of the sale was disclosed.
The proposed legalization of slot machines has been a major subject of legislative debate in Maryland for the past two years, and lawmakers have said it will arise again next year.
Frequent reports this year have said that the Angelos family's interest in buying the track sprang primarily from its potential as a venue for slots.
Horsemen have said their industry needs slots to survive and that the Angelos family could effectively champion the machines.
McDonough said last night that Angelos "has shown an ability to get things done in the legislature" and was himself "obviously in favor" of slots for racing. "All that adds [up] to a positive combination."
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) called the Rosecroft deal "especially positive" for racing and Prince George's. He said that although he considered the arrival of slot machines inevitable, the purchase "will enhance the possibility."
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), a foe of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s slots proposals, voiced doubt about the impact of the purchase.
He questioned why the entry of "some dynamic individual" into the matter would make a difference "after two years of debate."