The saga over whether card gambling would be allowed in Prince George’s County came to an abrupt end on the last night of Maryland’s General Assembly session as the House voted down Senate Bill 1035.

The bill, which was sponsored by Prince George’s County Sens. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist 26), in whose district Rosecroft is located, and Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Dist 27) would have allowed for games such as poker and blackjack to be played at Rosecroft Raceway.

“The people have spoken. Seventy percent wanted slots and wanted gambling in Prince George’s County,” said Muse in a Senate hearing on March 19. “In our district, 62 percent of the people want Rosecroft to remain open. This bill, again, is about Rosecroft.”

Still, the bill never had much support from Prince George’s County community or many other officials around the state.

“I’m an avid gambler—not slots, but table games and card games. I love taking trips to Atlantic City and Vegas,” said Gregory Graham, a lifelong county resident.

“However, as a homeowner and taxpaying resident of P.G. County I do not want card games at Rosecroft. It will immediately bring the quality of life down in the county.

“See, people in other counties in the state would vote for that because they know it’s not affecting their county.”

Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Dist. 22) agreed with Graham, which is why he added an amendment to the bill calling for unanimous approval of Prince George’s residents along with approval from citizens from across the state.

“If the vote results in a 52 percent to 48 percent vote in favor statewide, but actually results in 75 percent of the people of Prince George’s County voting against it, this would become law,” said Pinsky. “I think when people in Harford County, Baltimore County or Wicomico County look at this bill and say ‘Well, if Prince George’s wants it, I guess they can have it,’ this is not a local bill.”

Thomas Cooke, president of Cloverleaf, the company that owns and operates the floundering race track, expressed his disappointment in the bill’s failure.

“When the gavel was struck, we were very disappointed with the outcome of this legislative session,” Cooke told WBAL in Baltimore. “We thought we had tremendous support from rank-and-file delegates and senators alike, but, in the end, the speaker of the House did not allow the bill to come forward for a full vote and we came out on the losing end.”

Many officials from around the state, including Gov. Martin O’Malley say approaching the subject of card gambling was a bit premature as there aren’t any operational slot casinos yet. They believe if there’s any gambling to be discussed at this time, it’s where slot machines should be located.

“The governor has always believed that we ought to focus our efforts on establishing the slots locations the voters overwhelmingly approved in 2008 before we even discuss any expansion of gambling in Maryland,” said O’Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec. “That process is well underway. There are sites that are slated to open this summer and others that are still working through the process, but that process needs to be completed before we go beyond what the slots referendum allowed for.”

There was initial concern that with the vote going against the racetrack, it would have to close its doors soon.

“Employees were given notice two weeks ago that depending on the outcome in Annapolis that their jobs were indeed in jeopardy,” Cooke said. “We, nevertheless, have an enthusiastic contract purchaser in Marc Vogel and, at the end of the day, a lot of it depends on his continued enthusiasm as to where we go.”

It appears that Vogel’s enthusiasm is going to save the facility for at least the short term. On April 13, Vogel pledged a $350,000 loan, which should keep it open to at least July 1.

The long-term future of the racetrack still remains in doubt with no slots associated with it in the near future. However, officials around the state want the facility to remain open and are hoping that they can get slots approved at the track.

“In terms of jobs at Rosecroft, the governor has always believed that the most logical place for all of the slots locations would have been at racetracks,” Adamec said.

“Ultimately, slots revenue will help bolster the horse industry in Maryland and help places like Rosecroft. The governor championed a number of initiatives this year designed to create jobs and save jobs, and improve the conditions under which Maryland businesses and create and save jobs.”


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO