Allegany track wins approval

Line of credit ends MJC's opposition

Horse Racing

March 31, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Racing Commission gave preliminary approval yesterday to a bid by William Rickman Jr. to build a horse track in Western Maryland, acting after the Maryland Jockey Club agreed to drop its opposition.

Rickman, owner of Delaware Park and Ocean Downs, presented the commission with a $20 million line of credit for Allegany Racing Association, the entity composed of Rickman and his father, William Rickman, that proposes to construct the track in eastern Allegany County.

Representatives of the Maryland Jockey Club stopped fighting the proposal after Rickman secured the line of credit from the Wilmington Trust Co. in Delaware.

Although commissioners voted 6-0 in support of the track, they did not issue a license to construct and operate it. They merely gave Rickman the go-ahead to prepare a design, construction schedule and operating plan within the next six months. Later, the commission will hold a license hearing.

However, commissioners signaled their priorities by agreeing unanimously that Rickman's proposal met the preliminary standards of being financially viable and in the best interests of Maryland racing.

The decision followed a day of back-room intrigue as Rickman and his representatives negotiated with officials of the Pimlico-Laurel Park-Rosecroft Raceway alliance over matters of economic viability.

Even Rickman has said that a track in Western Maryland cannot be profitable without a supporting network of off-track-betting parlors. At the same time, he has repeatedly said that money is no object.

He has said that he and his father will spend whatever it takes to construct the track (estimated at $13.5 million) and then absorb any losses.

His securing the $20 million line of credit erased concerns about financial viability.

"We've never opposed a racetrack in Western Maryland," said Joe De Francis, president and CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club. "Our issue has always been, if Mr. Rickman wants to build a racetrack and own the racetrack and operate the racetrack, then he should pay for it with his own money. He's got plenty of that."

Rickman has made millions with slot machines at Delaware Park. De Francis has lobbied unsuccessfully for slots at Pimlico and Laurel.

De Francis said his opposition to Rickman's plan for the Western Maryland track centered on Rickman's related intention to build OTBs around the state. De Francis said he did not want Rickman's OTBs siphoning off MJC business to subsidize an unprofitable track in Allegany County.

"This is a good result," De Francis said of Rickman's securing the line of credit. "It gives Mr. Rickman the ability to move forward ... and gives us time to continue discussions to work out a mutually acceptable OTB solution."

De Francis said that he and Rickman have tried to agree upon locations and even discussed joint ventures for new OTBs.

"We'd like to proceed on a cooperative basis as opposed to a competitive basis," De Francis said.

Before voting in support of the track, commissioners heard impassioned testimony from Allegany County residents who questioned why a track should scar their community so that OTBs elsewhere could turn a profit.

"Put yourself in their place," said David Brigham, spokesman for Citizens Against the Racecourse. "Why does their community need to be turned upside down so that other things can be done to make money?"

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