In its most recent effort to derail the push for a Las Vegas-style casino at National Harbor, Rosecroft Raceway’s owner has promised two more years of live harness racing — but only if the state denies a casino license to any other bidder in the county.
Penn National Gaming, owner of the Fort Washington track, agreed Friday to a two-year contract extension with the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association to continue live racing at Rosecroft.
The agreement calls for 54 days of live racing, contingent on having “no casino approved for a location other than Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County,” according to Penn’s statement. The track would have racing two nights per week, with a spring and fall meet.
“Our priority is to give Maryland horsemen the greatest opportunity possible to earn a living, grow their business and rebuild the industry. This does require a financial sacrifice from Penn National to maintain our commitment to the Maryland Standardbred industry but we are willing to take that risk,” Christopher McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn, said in the statement.
Cloverleaf has no concern about Penn’s conditions regarding a National Harbor casino, said Sharon Roberts, executive vice president of Cloverleaf.
Penn previously has said it would difficult to continue operating Rosecroft without revenues from other gambling sources, such as slots.
“Penn has been very supportive of Maryland harness racing,” Roberts said. “We think they always put their best foot forward. This is a step in the right direction.
“We are very hopeful that the future of Rosecroft Raceway and the Standardbred industry are considered when the special session convenes in Annapolis. A casino at National Harbor will be the final blow to Rosecroft and will destroy our industry,” Robert said in a statement.
Roberts also expressed her “disappointment” with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) for being “willing to put the futures of our horsemen, the tracks employees and our breeding industry at risk just as we have begun to rebuild it.”
“We are finally seeing our industry begin to thrive again and it would be terrible for that progress to end because a casino was placed at National Harbor,” Roberts said.
Even if lawmakers OK a new gambling location in Prince George’s County when their special session convenes Thursday, the proposal still would need voters’ approval and face an open bidding process. But Penn, which also owns the Hollywood Casino Perryville slots parlor, says the dice are loaded in favor of MGM Resorts International and National Harbor.
“Penn is opposed to the legislature taking this matter up in a special session as it is apparent that the deal is done and in favor of a National Harbor site,” spokeswoman Karen Bailey wrote in an email to The Gazette.
The Wyomissing, Pa., gambling company has pushed for a slots license in Prince George’s since purchasing Rosecroft through a bankruptcy auction last year, and the legislation before lawmakers could allow slots at Rosecroft.
But Bailey has said Penn officials think the local and state government support for the nearby National Harbor site leaves Penn at “an impossible disadvantage.”
Bailey cited Penn Chairman Peter Carlino’s letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on July 23: “To the best of our ability and to the limits of our corporate resources, we will furiously to stop this rush to create an exclusive opportunity for National Harbor ...”
She said Penn would not comment on the specifics of those “resources” or whether they would be deployed during the special session or a potential November ballot effort.
Push for minority business participation
Meanwhile, the Prince George’s County Contractors and Business Association in Camp Springs continues to blast the National Harbor effort with an intense public relations campaign, urging residents to contact their representatives and warning against any “special treatment” for any casino in Prince George’s.
A recent letter from the association rallies support for numerous minority business participation requirements at the project. These include 35 percent minority equity ownership participation with local preference requirements and 35 percent minority contracting participation with local preference and local hiring goals.
The association also has spoken out against MGM itself and has challenged National Harbor on its record of minority business participation. The group just released a new video ad opposing a National Harbor casino.
In National Harbor’s four most recent contracts, its owner, the Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., has had minority business participation exceed county requirements of 20 percent for two contracts, at 24.3 percent and 25 percent. Peterson has surpassed the goal of 30 percent for two others at 43 percent and 48 percent, according to a February report issued by Mirinda Jackson, Prince George’s County’s minority business enterprise compliance manager.
“We have a strong record of consistently meeting and in many cases exceeding every metric of success as established by Prince George’s County,” the Peterson Cos. said in a statement.
The company referred to Metropolitan Protective Services, Corporate Cleaning Solutions, Grace’s Mandarin and CECA as local minority-owned businesses that have benefited from National Harbor.
“We’re pleased that Governor O’Malley and the General Assembly are moving forward with this plan to bring thousands of new jobs to Prince George’s County and hundreds of millions of dollars annually to Maryland public schools,” the developer said. “We agree that now is the time for Prince George’s County to realize its major national market opportunity.”
MGM also has touted its record of $1.2 billion awarded to minority-owned and disadvantaged suppliers and $1.6 billion awarded to minority-owned construction contractors since 2001.
“We expect significant MBE participation at our projects, especially in Prince George’s, given that a large part of the population is minority. We would embrace the participation not only in construction but also in suppliers and employment,” said Phyllis A. James, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for MGM.
“When we establish business in a new community, we’re looking to be a fully responsible corporate citizen. We want to be part of the community,” James said, adding that it’s too early to discuss specific goals.