Maryland doesn't need an ill-fated racetrack

Western Maryland: It's a money-loser that could do serious damage to Pimlico and other state tracks.

January 26, 2001

THE JUSTIFICATION for a horse-racing track in Western Maryland gets weaker and weaker.

And the damage that such a track -- and the requested three off-track betting facilities -- could do to Pimlico, Laurel and Rosecroft becomes more apparent.

Why would the Maryland Racing Commission even consider allowing such an isolated track to be built if it would undermine an already fragile racing industry in this state?

Politics.

William K. Rickman Jr., the Delaware Park racing/slots owner who seeks to build a track in rural Little Orleans, has powerful allies, such as House Speaker Casper R. Taylor of Cumberland.

It's nice to have friends in high places. But the role of the racing commission isn't to play political games. It's supposed to do what is in the best interest of Maryland racing.

It's clear that means rejecting the proposed Little Orleans track.

Even the commission's own accountant, during a hearing on the license application this week, questioned Mr. Rickman's low-ball numbers for building this track. The consultant said it's a $20 million project, not a $13 million one.

A study conducted for foes of the track by one of the nation's top racing economic groups, Thalheimer Research Associates of Kentucky, concludes the Rickman plan is such a money-loser it is "not financially viable."

Worse, the study found that that the new track, plus the three off-track betting parlors Mr. Rickman also insists he must have, would sharply cut into the cash flow of the three existing tracks.

This could lead to closing Pimlico's stables and backstretch area for training nine months each year to make up the lost revenue. All told, the study found that the Rickman proposal would mean the loss of 568 racing jobs in the Baltimore-Washington region.

That is unacceptable. The commission should not countenance a scheme that would severely weaken existing Maryland racetracks and throw hundreds of racing people out of work.

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