The owners of Rosecroft Raceway voted yesterday to sell the financially struggling harness racing track to the family of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, with the hope that he will have the political connections to transform it into a mecca for slot machines.
The sale, which must be approved by the Maryland Racing Commission, introduces a powerful player into the debate over gambling in Maryland.
"We're excited about the opportunity to move forward," Louis Angelos, a lawyer who is the son of the Orioles owner, told the racetrack's board of directors before it voted 15-1 to sell to the Angeloses.
The family, which offered $13 million for the Prince George's County racetrack, hopes to build a resort there, featuring a hotel and slots machines at the track, said Gerard Evans, an attorney for the group.
Thomas Winebrener, president of the Cloverleaf Standardbred Association, the board that oversees the racetrack, said stockholders were drawn to the Angeloses because they believe the baseball team owner and politically connected lawyer have the clout to help bring slot machines.
State lawmakers have debated the legalization of slots at racetracks and other locations the past two years, and the issue likely will rise again early next year.
"We feel that Mr. Angelos -- the Angelos group -- has influence over the Annapolis scene next year to powerbroker a license for Rosecroft," Winebrener said. "We know that without gaming, there is no significant future for harness racing in Maryland."
The ownership group consists of Louis Angelos and his brother, John, and their mother, Georgia. Peter Angelos is serving as a counsel to the group.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said Peter Angelos, as the Orioles owner with vast ties in politics and business, has experience that is well suited to managing the Oxon Hill racetrack.
Miller declined to speculate on how Angelos would affect the debate over gambling in Annapolis, although he added that the Orioles owner's ties to prominent Democrats nationally and to Maryland's Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., "make him a wonderful asset to the Washington community."
"If he's going to be here, then he's going to be a participant," Miller said.
Angelos's entrance into the slots debate could have ramifications for the proposed National Harbor resort in Prince George's, which some lawmakers have cited as an ideal spot for gambling.
But it's questionable whether Prince George's political and community leaders would agree to two gambling venues in the Oxon Hill area.
"I cannot imagine a scenario where both Rosecroft and National Harbor get slots," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), who has advocated for casino gambling at National Harbor. "There is a considerable opposition to the slots-only proposal in Prince George's County."
Rosecroft's owners have warned in recent years that a drop in attendance and smaller purses might force it to close if they don't find a qualified buyer. Rosecroft sought to sell last year to Centaur Inc., an Indiana-based casino and track company, but the deal fell through when the Maryland racing commission failed to grant approval in time to meet a contractually set deadline.
A lawsuit that Centaur filed to block the racetrack's sale to any other bidder is pending.
The racing commission also rejected Rosecroft's sale of the track to a group led by Northwind Racing LLC.
The Angelos family, which twice has unsuccessfully sought to buy the racetrack, outbid Carl D. Jones, a prominent African American businessman in Prince George's, and Canada-based Magna Entertainment Corp.
As part of the offer, the Angelos family has told Rosecroft that it would include in the ownership of the racetrack a minority investor with a stake of at least 25 percent. Louis Angelos told the board yesterday that the family has spoken with a number of minority investors, although he declined to identify them.
Jones said in an interview that black lawmakers from Prince George's "are not going to stand for" the board not choosing an African American bidder. "They're not going to support slots for Mr. Angelos," he said.
Jones said he would not participate in any Rosecroft venture unless he had more than 50 percent control. Anything less, he said, "would be tokenism. I don't need money that bad."
Winebrener said that the board is "cognizant as anyone about the importance of African American participation."
"We wanted to do a deal with Carl Jones," he said. "We were never able to come to terms."
Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.