A proposed Prince George's County casino along the Potomac River could spell the end of racing in Fort Washington and doom Maryland's standardbred horse racing industry, opponents say.
Officials at the long-beleaguered Rosecroft Raceway have made it clear that slots or other casino-style gambling must be a part of its business for the racetrack to survive.
Penn National Gaming, which bought the bankrupt track last year for $12 million and reopened the once-popular facility in October, invested in the track with the hope that the Maryland General Assembly would expand gambling to Prince George's this legislative session.
"There's no question that Rosecroft's long-term viability is dependent on gaming," said Penn National spokeswoman Karen Bailey.
Now the company is devastated by a proposal that would eliminate Rosecroft from the competition for a casino before a gambling license is even approved in Prince George's.
County Executive Rushern Baker is pushing a casino at National Harbor, where developers with the Peterson Cos. are pushing for a $1 billion Las Vegas-style casino that dwarfs Penn National's original designs for a $300 million racetrack casino.
Penn National officials have worked diligently with the community and lawmakers in Annapolis for years to attract the state's sixth gambling license to Rosecroft, said Steven Snyder, senior vice president of corporate development. Baker's pitch for National Harbor has left the company "deeply disappointed," he said at a Senate hearing Wednesday.
A casino at Rosecroft also affords the state an opportunity to help turn around the struggling racing industry, which was one of the reasons state lawmakers pursued slots in the first place, Snyder said.
"A license at Rosecroft Raceway is the last viable option for racing in this state," Snyder said. "We cannot be disadvantaged from the get-go as Mr. Baker has done to us at Rosecroft."
Seven percent of slots revenue from Maryland's two casinos now go to an account dedicated to stabilizing the horse racing industry, and another 2.5 percent goes to racetrack renewal projects.
And Rosecroft serves as the backbone of standardbred breeding in Maryland, according to Dan Myer, board member of the Maryland Standardbred Breeders Association. If Rosecroft goes, so too does harness racing in the county and probably the state, he said.
"Slots belong at the racetracks, where gaming already exists," Myer said. "It's the message we've been bringing down here since the first gambling bill."