The emergence of Penn National Gaming as Rosecroft Raceway's new owner sets the stage for a new slots battle in Maryland that will be just as fierce as the last one, which stretched out for more than a decade. Already a co-owner of Maryland's two thoroughbred tracks, Penn National swooped in as the victor in Rosecroft's bankruptcy auction, bidding $10.25 million for the beleaguered Prince George's County harness-racing track.

The move, if approved by a bankruptcy judge this week, deepens the company's stake in Maryland racing but also places it in a position to be the state's largest slots operator -- if it gets gambling legislation altered.

But as always with slots in Maryland, it's an uphill battle.

"The road to slots at Rosecroft is not going to be an easy one," said Thomas Cooke, president of the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners' Association. "But I want to give them credit. They obviously have a commitment to Maryland and now they have a chance to really turn racing around."

Company spokesman Eric Schippers said Penn National planned to continue its pursuit of slots at Laurel Park, which it owns with MI Developments Inc. Penn already holds a slots license in Cecil County, where it opened the Hollywood Casino Perryville last year.

Referring to Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to use some slots revenue to subsidize track operations, Schippers said Penn hoped the legislature "might consider allowing the issue of slots at Rosecroft to go to the ballot as it is considering other changes to the Maryland gaming law."

Both moves would require changing the state constitution to allow a gambling operator to hold more than one slots license. But any gaming legislation faces a formidable opponent in House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, who has long opposed gambling. His chamber was, for many years, where slots legislation died.

A spokeswoman for Busch said after the auction he was not yet aware of Penn National's plans.

The company came out as the surprise winner after Baltimore Orioles owner -- and favored bidder -- Peter Angelos pulled out after the first of five rounds of bidding, according to a source with knowledge of the bidding. Another bidder, former Maryland Democratic Party chairman and prominent developer Nathan Landow, "just choked" in the final round, the source said.

Rosecroft's current owner said he hoped Penn National's existing partnership with Maryland's thoroughbred industry could smooth over a long-standing fight Rosecroft has had with the industry over the harness track's right to broadcast thoroughbred races.

"They are committed to having live racing by the end of this year and ... I think they want standardbred racing to thrive," Kelley Rogers said.