Election Day – Nov. 6 – could very well be doomsday for a Maryland horse racing establishment.
That's how officials of Rosecroft Raceway see it. They predict that if voters approve the referendum on expansion of gaming in the state, it will mean the demise of the 63-year-old raceway.
Karen Bailey, director of public affairs for Penn National Gaming [PNG], owner of Rosecroft, said that they're being squeezed out of consideration to develop a new casino in Prince George's County if the measure passes, which will likely force the track to close.
"Rosecroft is not going to have a fair shot," said Bailey. "In order for us to stay open, we need to add gaming."
And PNG officials said that they are being shut out of consideration of charting the future of horse racing and gaming in Maryland.
Located in Fort Washington, Rosecroft features harness racing and first opened in 1949.
PNG executives contend that Prince George's County officials favor MGM Resorts International of Las Vegas, which has reached an agreement with the Peterson Companies, developer of National Harbor, to build a casino at the world-class hotel and shopping complex if voters approve live table games and a sixth gaming site on Election Day.
Penn National Gaming, which owns and operates 20 horse racing venues and casinos in the United States and Canada, opened Hollywood Casino in Perryville in 2010. The company purchased Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County after it went bankrupt and closed in 2008 and re-opened the facility in 2010. The two facilities employ nearly 400 people and have generated more than $140 million in state taxes, according to PNG.
Since the opening of Maryland Live! Casino in Anne Arundel County in June, PNG's Perryville casino has experienced a drop in visitors and revenue of about 30 percent. This summer PNG officials said they planned to return 500 slot machines due to the decrease.
An open letter from Penn National Gaming dated Aug. 30 that ran in several local newspapers and on websites, stated: "Despite our company's deep commitment to, and significant investment in, Maryland, the State Legislature recently approved a deeply flawed bill during special session that, among other things, will result in a virtual sole source contract for a casino at National Harbor, thus ensuring the demise of Rosecroft and the long-term solution to saving horse racing in Maryland."
It further explains that the Perryville casino didn't receive the same tax adjustment provided to other casinos in the state. "The significant difference between our tax rate and that of Anne Arundel and Baltimore will hurt revenues and put the Perryville facility at a competitive disadvantage," according to the letter.
Another point of contention for PNG is that prior to the August legislative special session, officials proposed an investment of $500 million at Rosecroft at the 67 percent tax rate, which they said would have generated more revenue for the state than a sixth casino and tax breaks. "Yet policymakers chose not to give this serious consideration," the letter states.
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman held a press conference on Sept. 20 at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring to announce their continued support of Question 7 which will appear on the ballot in November.
"This is not just about gaming. It's about economic development. It's about good jobs. It's about expanding opportunity not only in Prince George's County but also across the state of Maryland," Baker said. "Make no mistake: This is about Maryland versus West Virginia. Those dollars need to stay right here at home."
A press release about the three county executives endorsement of Question 7 stated that Penn National Gaming recently launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, "in an attempt to mislead Maryland voters and protect the $170 million a year that its Charles Town Casino in West Virginia makes off of Maryland residents."
However in an open letter to the public, PNG countered, "It will be said that our opposition to the law is to protect our existing facility in Charles Town, West Virginia [Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races]. If that were the case then we never would have offered to invest $500 million in a new establishment at Rosecroft. It really is that simple."
Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races currently offers live table games such as poker, black jack and roulette.
Asked if closure of Rosecroft Raceway would be years away should the measure be approved and a casino in the county built, Bailey said "not necessarily" and that a shutdown could happen sooner.
"If there's no hope to give, the answer would be clear – the county and state are not interested in keeping Rosecroft and racing alive," Bailey said.