Two plans for track in Allegany County to be submitted today

De Francis, Rickman vie for right to build facility

March 02, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The competition between two prominent racetrack owners to build a horse track in Western Maryland begins today as each is expected to submit plans to the Maryland Racing Commission.

Joe De Francis, head of the company that operates Pimlico and Laurel Park, and Bill Rickman Jr., president and CEO of Delaware Park, said yesterday that they will meet today's deadline to apply for the license to operate a track in Allegany County.

Commission officials were expecting no other applications.

De Francis and his associates would build their track about five miles west of Cumberland off Interstate 68. Rickman would build his about 25 miles east of Cumberland, also off I-68.

Each proposal calls for the track to hold short thoroughbred and harness meets, presumably in the summer, and to remain open year-round for simulcast wagering.

The commission, which regulates horse racing in the state, has seven months to consider the applications. It can then award a license to De Francis or Rickman -- or award none if it decides the track would not enhance Maryland racing or would not be economically feasible.

Most new horse tracks opened in recent years in this country have struggled. But a track in Allegany County comes with an influential proponent in House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who lives in Cumberland. He said a horse track would boost the depressed local economy.

"We believe it's a natural fit," Taylor said.

When the commission considers who, if anyone, should build and operate the track, the issue may come down to competition vs. cooperation.

Rickman, a Montgomery County developer, said the state's racing industry needs competition to re-energize it. Along with his father, William Rickman Sr., he owns the Delaware Park horse track and slots emporium near Wilmington.

The two Rickmans would be partners in the Western Maryland venture. Rickman Jr. said each would put up $6.5 million so their proposed $13 million project would carry no debt.

Their plan calls for a clubhouse of 40,000 square feet, seven barns with 280 stalls, and 15 days of thoroughbred and six days of harness racing a year.

Rickman also envisions off-track betting parlors in the city of Frederick, in Cecil County and, eventually, in Lexington Park in Southern Maryland.

De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, said the state's racing industry already has plenty of competition from state lotteries, recently constructed sports venues, telephone- and computer-betting services and slot machines at tracks in West Virginia and Delaware, including Rickman's.

De Francis said the industry needs cooperation and cited the Maryland Jockey Club's recent revenue-sharing agreement with Rosecroft Raceway, the harness track in Prince George's County. As an outgrowth of that agreement, the jockey club and Rosecroft have formed Allegany Maryland Racing in applying for the license.

Its plan calls for 10 days of thoroughbred and 10 days of harness racing in late summer, when potential competitors Pimlico, Laurel Park and Rosecroft would not offer live racing.

Instead of a traditional clubhouse, the design calls for an elaborate OTB with viewing areas overlooking the track. A backstretch would include two 60-stall barns.

De Francis said the project would cost about $8 million, which would be borrowed.

Neither he nor Rickman said the proposed track would be a big money-maker. But each man said he believes his way is best for scratching out a profit.

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