Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington facing imminent closure
Track to shut down this month after House of Delegates votes against subsidy rescue
The Rosecoft Raceway track in Fort Washington is slated for closure later this month after a Maryland House of Delegates committee voted against legislation Monday night that may have saved the track.
On the last day of the session, the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee voted 11-9 against legislation that would have provided $12 million in subsidies over four years to the track. The funds would have come from subsidies under the slots bill, which passed voter referendum in 2008.
Rosecroft managers said the measure would have saved the 60-year-old track from closing and forcing layoffs of about 200 employees, because the track will not have enough money to sustain itself after April 19.
Delegate Jay Walker (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington, who sits on the committee, advocated for the subsidies, but said initial support for the track turned by the late Monday vote.
"I feel a gamut of emotions right now, none of them good," he said. "We presented a reasonable alternative to save jobs."
The track's supporters had once hoped the House would pass a measure that would allow card gambling at the track, potentially bringing in millions of dollars in revenue, but Walker said that issue was never voted on because the House "did not want to explore gambling."
Delegate Frank S. Turner (D-Dist. 13) of Columbia, who sat on the committee with Walker, said the amendment was voted down because it lacked oversight. The state, he said, would have essentially been giving millions to a private company that had stated it was going out of business. He added several bills were already working their way through the House that would have given funds to Rosecroft.
"We have to be responsible with state money and how it is going to be spent," he said. "Prince George's County had a chance to be a player but they did not want slots."
Kelley Rogers, president of Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., which owns Rosecroft, said in addition to card gambling, he and others from the track were lobbying legislators to allow 100 nights of live horse racing, a higher percentage of state subsidies for racing purses, and the introduction of a commission that would regulate the horse racing industry in the state, none of which were successful in the House.
"We hung on as long as we could possibly hang on," he said Friday.
The track has been struggling financially in recent years. Live horse racing, once a major revenue stream for the track, was discontinued more than a year ago due to declining revenues. The increased costs of purchasing a simulcast signal from tracks in other states also contributed to loss of revenues. In June, the track filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Rogers said the track lost more than $30 million in revenue in 2009.
Rosecroft had been sustaining itself by revenue generated by thoroughbred simulcast until a contract dispute halted thoroughbred simulcast viewing in January. The track has relied on earnings from other types of simulcast racing and is now operating at 25 percent of its revenue stream compared with 2009.
Murrill Ferguson, president of the Henson Valley Civic Association in Fort Washington, which abuts Rosecroft Raceway, said she has been living near the track for 28 years and that it has always served as a local institution, contributing space and sponsorship to community groups. She now worries crime will become an issue if the 300 acres the track sits on go dark.
"We're pretty much in shock," she said. "[The civic association doesn't] have a place to meet."
E-mail Joshua Garner at firstname.lastname@example.org.