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Maryland Horses Benefitting at the Track

Gale Horton Gay | 7/24/2013, noon
Penn National Gaming, owners of Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington are among the organizations that have submitted bids for the license to build and operate a casino in Prince George’s County. Courtesy Photo

Preferential treatment may be the key to revitalizing horse racing in Maryland.

That’s the opinion of officials with Penn National Gaming (PNG), owners of Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington.

Rosecroft, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2011 and reopened after it was acquired by PNG, has seen a steady increase in the number of Maryland horses and owners coming to Rosecroft to compete. The spike, they say, is due to a new system that benefits Maryland horsemen and Maryland-connected horses.

“The preferences for Maryland horsemen put in place by Penn National Gaming at Rosecroft shows their commitment to give Maryland horsemen and breeders every chance to benefit from increased purses and racing opportunities,” said Thomas Cooke, president of the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association.

This is part of PNG’s efforts to strengthen horse racing in Maryland and to make horse racing financially more appealing to Marylanders who are in the horse racing industry.

Among the preference measures Rosecroft established: Maryland owned, sired/bred, trained and foaled horses were given first priority to compete in all races beginning last spring. Officials also established a policy of making any race exclusively for these Maryland horses if seven or more of them were entered in any race. “Maryland Preferred” races (those with eight or more Maryland horses) carried a purse premium of 10 percent.

Rosecroft reports that $1.2 million in prize money was distributed during the 25-night spring racing season, which ended June 1. That’s an increase of more than 30 percent from the 2012 season, they said. And more than 75 percent of the total purses earned were captured by “Maryland Preferred” horses, they added.

It also translates into an economic boost for Prince George’s County, PNG officials said.

Horse racing in Maryland is supported by Maryland slot machine revenue and PNG officials say that support is critical to help the horse racing industry survive and thrive.

Christopher McErlean, vice president of racing at PNG, said the goal is to keep that money circulating among Marylanders who pour their financial resources, sweat and commitment into harness racing in the state.

“We understand the importance of rebuilding the Standardbred racing industry in Maryland and felt the establishment of these highly supportive preferences would benefit the entire racing industry in Maryland,” said McErlean.

During the spring season Rosecroft held 306 races and about 103 races were “exclusive” with only Maryland horses competing, McErlean said.

“Successful overnight racing is the key to establishing a revitalized breeding industry in Maryland,” said Dan Myer, president of the Maryland Standardbred Association. “Our horsemen need a place to race their horses and we appreciate Penn National’s commitment. Their clear preference for Maryland horsemen is appreciated and greatly needed at this critical time.”

PNG is among three organizations that have submitted bids for the license to build and operate a casino in Prince George’s County.

PNG seeks to build a $700 million casino resort project at Rosecroft. Their proposal includes a casino gaming and racing entertainment facility featuring video lottery terminals, live table games, a poker room, a hotel with a pool and spa, food and beverage options, an entertainment and multi-purpose event center, a new grandstand and parking facility.

PNG officials maintain that if it fails to get the gaming license Rosecroft may be unable to compete and will be forced to close.

PNG owns, operates or has ownership interests in gaming and racing facilities and currently operates 29 gaming/racing facilities in 19 jurisdictions, including Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, West Virginia and Ontario.

Maryland’s Video Lottery Facility Location Commission is expected to make a decision on the award of the casino license sometime in late 2013.