Peace urged in Allegany dispute

Rickman-Jockey Club feud spurs call for more talks

Horse Racing

March 30, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Racing Commission cut off testimony yesterday on building a horse track in Western Maryland so that opposing sides could work on an agreement to expedite the tedious process.

William Rickman Jr., who wants to build the track in Allegany County, offered to write a letter of credit guaranteeing its financial viability and stability. Rickman, who owns Ocean Downs and Delaware Park, is the only applicant for the license to construct the track.

"We don't have much of a case to present," Rickman said. "We've got the money. We want to build it. And we know how."

Rickman has proposed building a small track off Interstate 68 that would race thoroughbreds and standardbreds three weeks a year and operate as an off-track betting center year-round. He also wants to build OTBs in other parts of the state.

His chief opponent is the Maryland Jockey Club, executives of which operate Pimlico and Laurel Park. They say that the off-track betting parlors Rickman wants to build in conjunction with the track would hurt Maryland racing and their stake in it.

If lawyers for Rickman and the MJC can agree on provisions of the letter of credit, the racing commission may decide today to suspend its hearing, the first of two required on the matter.

The state legislature passed a law two years ago clearing the way for a horse track in Allegany County. The racing commission is charged with deciding whether to issue a license to build the track.

As stipulated by state regulation, this initial phase deals with broad issues such as the track's economic viability. The second phase would deal with the specifics of building and operating the track.

That's when residents of Allegany County who oppose the track will get their say. About 20 members of the group "Citizens Against the Racecourse" attended the hearing, but their participation was limited to cross-examining witnesses.

One of the residents' main arguments is that the area where Rickman wants to build his track lacks an adequate water supply. "Water is clearly an issue; there's no question about that," said David Brighan, leader of the group.

At the outset, the racing commission expected several parties to compete for the license. Phase one was designed to winnow the process to one applicant.

Since only one party applied, testimony originally set for phase one could perhaps be postponed until phase two. According to regulations, phase two should begin within six months of the conclusion of phase one.

The racing commission will reconvene at 8 a.m. today at the Timonium fairgrounds to decide whether to end phase one or to continue taking testimony about whether a track in Western Maryland would benefit racing in the state.

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