Mark Vogel's arrest last week on a charge of cocaine possession and his forfeiture of control of Rosecroft Raceway amid concerns of questionable fiscal management have thrown Maryland's harness-racing industry into turmoil.
Vogel, a wealthy developer who owns both state harness tracks -- Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs -- agreed this week to relinquish control of the tracks at the recommendation of the Maryland Racing Commission, which regulates the industry. The commission did not order Vogel to sell the tracks, state officials said.
In a move to separate the tracks from Vogel's other holdings, the Maryland attorney general's office yesterday began drafting conditions under which Vogel will retain ownership of both tracks while abdicating authority of day-to-day management and finances. The commission is expected to delegate that authority to General Manager Jim Murphy.
Bruce Spizler, assistant Maryland attorney general who specializes in racing matters, said he expected details of the arrangement to be completed by Monday after Vogel's lawyers have reviewed it.
Because Vogel, 42, has not been actively involved in Rosecroft management since he bought the track in 1987, the move is not expected to affect day-to-day operations.
The shift in power resulted from a meeting Wednesday between Ken Schertle, executive director of the commission, and Dan Sandler, treasurer of Rosecroft Raceway and Mark Vogel Cos., in light of concern surrounding Vogel's real estate holdings and reports he used as much as $2 million from Rosecroft and defunct Freestate Raceway accounts for non-racing concerns. Vogel's lawyer, Paul Mark Sandler, acknowledged the withdrawals yesterday.
"He's an independent businessman; he can use the money as he wants," said commissioner Peter Bozick. "But should it affect that part of the track's financial structure that falls under our regulatory authority -- purse accounts, tax accounts -- then it would become of great concern to us."
The commission has ordered a financial audit of Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs, and State Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Howard), who chairs a joint legislative subcommittee on horse racing, scheduled a special meeting Thursday to examine track finances.
Over recent months, the commission has become increasingly troubled by Rosecroft's financial health. There have been reports of late purse distributions to horse owners and payments to vendors.
Charlie Lockhart, executive vice president of the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, said Rosecroft's purse disbursements have been paid, on average, 10 to 12 days after a horse has raced. In years past, he said, disbursements averaged about seven days.
Bozick called the lapse in purse payments "of great consternation to me." He added, "It may not have been a cause for alarm, but if I'm a one-horse owner, a thousand dollars might mean a hell of a lot."
The racing commission has the power to revoke or suspend Vogel's license as race track owner even if he is not convicted of the drug charge, Spizler said.
Although state records reveal that the two tracks lost $1.2 million for the year ending Sept. 30, 1989, Murphy called Rosecroft "a successful, profitable venture. Its future may be uncertain," he said, "but it's not in jeopardy."
Rosecroft's 1990 betting handle -- the lifeblood of the racetrack -- is inconclusive because this year's schedule varies considerably from that of 1989.
Through Sunday, wagers over 170 nights averaged $493,772 per program, according to track figures; Rosecroft averaged $496,308 last year in 140 nights. However, 1990 statistics are augmented by three factors: the track has simulcast its races to Delmarva Downs since late May, gaining off-track handle it did not have last year; it received the prime summer dates this year after Freestate closed; and earlier this month, it had a record $1.2 million evening -- $400,000 of which was correctly bet to show in two races. Because the track must pay a five percent return on all correct wagers, it was forced to make up about $18,000 to cover the bets.
News of Vogel's arrest preyed on Rosecroft's drivers and trainers.
"There's not really panic, but there is concern; this is our livelihood," said Sean Feeney, who has been on the circuit eight years.
"For all the money he's got," another horseman said, "I wouldn't want to be in his shoes right now."