Even if he can arrange new financing for his two Maryland racetracks, developer Mark Vogel should be removed from the state's horse racing industry because of his admission of long-term "off-and-on" use of cocaine, some state officials said yesterday.
"My feeling right now is that Mark Vogel should not be involved in racing, period. As far as he's concerned, I think it's safe to say that he will not be in any responsible role in horse racing in this state for the immediate future," said Ernest J. Colvin, chairman of the Maryland State Racing Commission.
The Racing Commission is slated to consider tomorrow the renewal of a track operating license for the Rosecroft Trotting and Racing Association, the corporation that owns and operates Rosecroft in Oxon Hill. Vogel is the corporation's sole owner. Vogel also owns the state's only other harness track, Delmarva Downs near Ocean City. He is facing a bank foreclosure on a delinquent $11 million loan for both tracks.
"It's hard for me to imagine anyone in the General Asembly wanting to entrust a state asset such as racing days in the hands of someone who freely admits to cocaine usage," said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
Curran, whose staff provides legal advice to the commission, said Vogel's admission of recreational cocaine use flies in the face of a law that became effective Jan. 1 barring convicted drug abusers from holding state jobs or state-regulated posts. State licensing regulations call for the removal or suspension of licenses held by known drug users.
The reaction came after Vogel, 42, said in an interview with The Washington Post that he has used cocaine recreationally since his late twenties.
Although Vogel pleaded guilty to a cocaine possession charge in November, he had not previously commented publicly about his use of the drug. In the interview, the Bowie-based developer attributed his cocaine use to personal weakness and said it helped him cope with stress and a frenetic lifestyle.
Vogel is trying to save the tracks from a foreclosure action by the First National Bank of Maryland before Friday's scheduled opening of live racing at Rosecroft. Delmarva Downs also is scheduled to open Friday to simulcast the Rosecroft events.
Several Racing Commission members said they would not support a new license for Vogel's corporation. But they said the commission must find a way to ensure that Rosecroft's opening takes place as scheduled.
After his Sept. 13 arrest, Vogel was removed from the track's day-to-day operations, which were placed in the hands of a general manager under close supervision by the commission.
"As far as I'm concerned, the quicker we get rid of him the better. He's a black eye to this industry and this state, not only with his financial problems but with his moral problems," said Commissioner Eric Frederick.
"If this was a member of the State Racing Commission, I'd be shocked if the governor didn't ask him to resign immediately. If this were a horseman or any other licensed employee of the racetracks, there's no question but that they would be subject to the suspension or loss of their license," said Commissioner Alan Levy.
Commissioner Peter Bozick, who has frequently supported Vogel in commission debates, asked, "If the courts aren't going to punish him, then why should we?"
Vogel, who was charged in Fairfax County with possession of four grams of cocaine, pleaded guilty under an agreement in which his record will be expunged in one year if he commits no other criminal offense.