CAMBRIDGE - Over the objections of local gambling opponents, the Maryland Racing Commission last night approved a permit for William Rickman Jr. to operate an off-track betting parlor in this Eastern Shore community.
Rickman said he was pleased with the commission's unanimous vote to grant the permit and expects to have the 10,000-square- foot facility in a strip shopping center off U.S. Route 50 open for business by August.
About 65 area residents - most opposed to the OTB - turned out for a public hearing on the permit application, held at Governor's Hall In Sailwind Park. About a half dozen addressed the commission, all urging members to reject the permit request.
"This OTB is not a business we asked for in our community," said Cheryl Michael, a co-coordinator of NOcasiNO Dorchester. "We do not want it. We feel it will have a negative impact on our children, adults, families, churches, businesses and government."
A local business owner, Sims Rogers of Mid Atlantic Antiques Market, suggested the OTB is a way for Rickman to "get a foot in the door" to eventually operate a slots emporium in Dorchester.
Although slots are not legal in Maryland now, influential legislative leaders, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., have been pressing to allow them at race tracks. A slots bill was rejected during the legislative session this year - an election year for legislators, but many expect pressure for slots legalizaion to build next year after Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a resolute gambling opponent, leaves office.
Those who support slots say they would generate millions in badly needed tax revenues for the state and help Maryland's race tracks compete with tracks in Delaware and West Virginia, both of which allow slots at their tracks.
Although Rickman has a large slots operation at the Delaware Park horse track and plans to build a new race track in Allegany County, he says that he will not lead the charge for slots in Maryland.
Rickman also has said he is against placing slots in OTBs. He said they should only be at racetracks and "destination locations," where a person has to make a special effort to go to play them.
Racing Commissioner Ellen Moyer told those attending yesterday's meeting that the commission could only review whether Rickman's application to open an OTB met requirements of Maryland law.
She said a rezoning to allow the facility - which opponents are challenging in court - is a local government issue.
"I can understand you being philosophically opposed to gambling; I suppose that you are going to ask to repeal Lotto," Moyer said. But she chided opponents for personally attacking Rickman.
Michael, of the NOcasiNO group, said opponents will continue to challenge the OTB on the political and legal fronts.
"We've got a lot of supporters," she said after the commission voted to approve the permit. "These ministers are fired up now."