Hearing on racetrack bogs down in details

Items are challenged in Allegany proposal

Horse Racing

January 25, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Preliminary arguments before the Maryland Racing Commission concerning the proposed construction of a racetrack in Western Maryland moved at a snail's pace yesterday.

After the hearing at a Laurel office building, William Rickman Jr., who wants to build the facility in Allegany County, said he is "hoping" the commission "can decide by Friday whether to proceed to Phase 2" of the two-part proceedings. "But I didn't expect all this quibbling over details."

John McDonogh, the counsel representing the Maryland Jockey Club and Rosecroft Raceway, questioned numerous points in the application filed by Rickman under the auspices of Allegany Racing LLC.

The jockey club, headed by Joe De Francis, had been competing with Rickman to build an Allegany track. De Francis dropped his bid in December, but attorneys for the jockey club challenged Rickman's application yesterday.

One issue raised by McDonogh was the sufficiency of water to support the track at the site at Little Orleans. He insisted that the question should be addressed in this early portion of the application process and the commission agreed in a split vote. Little Orleans was described as "the desert of Maryland."

"We think that is a Phase 2 item," said Rickman. "We're talking about a specific site we chose because of the abundance of water."

The commission went into executive session three times to consider issues being debated by McDonogh and Robert Paye, the attorney for the Rickman interests, as the hearing bogged down on procedural matters.

There was also a lengthy discussion about whether certain details in the application involved changes or amendments. The latter deal with the standards and language of regulations and the commission agreed that the request of the Rickman group to include Cambridge - and not Cecil County - as a potential site for an off-track betting facility constituted an amendment.

After that ruling, Allegany Racing withdrew its request to amend.

Another lengthy discussion involved whether the applicant could include projected revenue from simulcast wagering sites in the mix and the commission voted to consider only the application for a race track, since OTB facilities must be dealt with separately.

The panel also heard a report from certified public accountant Craig Gegorec. He testified that Rickman's projected $13 million price for the project is about $7.6 million short of the actual cost. The figure includes a loss of revenue from the Cecil County OTB because the county is too small to support two betting facilities.

"This is not about another racetrack," Rickman said. "This is about competition. You know the OTB in Cecil County [operated by the jockey club] is operating because of the temporary approval of Delaware Park [which Rickman owns]. There is a jurisdiction there. I'd be happy to let them stay if they don't oppose us going somewhere else."

"There is only one applicant and he has an obligation to protect a slot franchise in Delaware that is producing a lot of money," countered De Francis.

The hearing will continue today at 9 a.m. at Timonium.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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