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Penn National to buy Rosecroft Raceway for $10.2 million, with goal to add slots at track

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2011; 9:59 PM

Penn National, the nation's largest parimutuel gaming company, agreed Friday to pay $10.2 million for bankrupt Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill, hoping to bring slots to the failed harness racing track and, at the same time, revive racing.

The company, which has tried to purchase Rosecroft before, beat out Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Bethesda-based developer and former state Democratic chairman Nathan Landow to win a three-hour auction conducted behind closed doors at a Rockville law firm.

The track, which closed in July, is in an area of Prince George's County that officials are eager to redevelop. It is a few miles from National Harbor, a new community on the Potomac River that has brought new restaurants and a convention-sized hotel, as well as residences, to the county. Penn National, which co-owns Laurel Park, also wants to put slots at that track as it bids for gaming at Rosecroft.

It's not clear if gaming in southern Prince George's fits in with a vision often articulated by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who has promised "quality development" to spark economic growth. Baker did not respond to a request for comment, but spokesman Scott Peterson said Baker would be taking a "judicious approach" that looks at costs and benefits of the Rosecroft proposal.

Michael Lichtenstein, the attorney who led the auction, said the plan is scheduled to go to a bankruptcy judge in Greenbelt on Wednesday, and it is expected to be approved.

Angelos had previously agreed to pay $9 million in cash, plus an additional$5 million if slots were approved, but was outbid by Penn National. All the bidders had pledged to revive racing, Lichtenstein said.

Penn National spokesman Eric Schippers said the company hopes a slots referendum could be put to voters in 2012, accompanying a possible referendum on table games in Maryland.

In 2007, Penn National dropped its bid for Rosecroft when it did not win a designation as one of five Maryland sites for slot machines. Besides Laurel Park, Penn National co-owns Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and owns Hollywood Casino Perryville, the first slots parlor to open in Maryland.

The plans for Rosecroft are raising questions from some who live near the track.

"I don't know of anybody who thinks that slots or table games is a good idea at Rosecroft," said William H. Cavitt, head of the Riverbend Estates Neighborhood Association and an activist in the Indian Head Highway corridor.

"This is largely a residential neighborhood," he said. "There are concerns about crime, about traffic. It is the wrong kind of enterprise at the wrong place."

Rick Tyler, whose back yard abuts Rosecroft, said he was chiefly concerned about the potential for the traffic jams a revitalized racetrack could generate.

"The intersection nearest Rosecroft is failing now," he said, adding that the state needs to find a way to pay for road improvements.

The track is about a half-mile from the nearest Metrobus stop and about two miles from the nearest Metro station. Schippers said talk about Penn National footing the bill for road improvements is "premature."

State Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D), chairman of the county's state Senate delegation, said he did not think the road configuration works with the influx of gamblers slots could bring. "I am definitely against it," he said.

State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's), whose district includes Rosecroft, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), whose district includes a slice of southern Prince George's, has said he favors slots at Rosecroft.

Prince George's County Council member Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington), who lives near the track, voted against slots three times when he was a member of the House of Delegates.

"I will be curious to know what is Penn National's plan of action," he said. "What do they plan to put there? When and how do they plan to engage the community?"

Several Prince George's officials opposed slots in the county when the General Assembly debated a measure that sent the issue to voters in a 2008 statewide referendum. Last year, the state legislature rejected a bill to legalize poker and other table games at Rosecroft.

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