Ocean Downs owner lobbies for slots at his harness track

July 22, 2004|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Ocean Downs owner William Rickman Jr. is trying to persuade Worcester County residents to lobby their legislators and local elected officials to support slot machines for his harness racing track outside Ocean City.

Rickman's track has not been included in slots proposals that the General Assembly has considered over the past two years because of opposition from Eastern Shore lawmakers and Ocean City Mayor James N. Mathias Jr.

Rickman had a color brochure mailed to about 15,000 Worcester County residents about a week ago, urging them to contact their elected officials.

"Tell them you care about the future of Worcester County and want slots at Ocean Downs," the brochure reads.

It says approval of slots will improve schools, bring "quality jobs" to the county and generate revenue for local services.

Mathias and others who oppose slots at Ocean Downs have voiced fears that a slots casino would divert spending from family-owned businesses and hotels in the resort town and cause other problems.

Rickman is a Montgomery County developer whose family owns and operates the Delaware Park racetrack casino in Delaware. He also has said he plans to build a thoroughbred track in Allegany County near Cumberland - one of the sites that has been included in past slots bills considered by the General Assembly.

Rickman said yesterday that he thinks Maryland's General Assembly is likely to approve slots next year, despite defeats in the past two years.

He said that the decision by Pennsylvania to allow slot machine gambling at a dozen sites, including all of its horse racing tracks, makes it more important for Maryland to approve a slots bill. Rickman estimated that he spent about $9,000 to have the brochures sent to Worcester County voters.

"We tried to cover the county pretty heavily," the developer said. "It was an awareness piece - something to make the voters of Worcester County understand what county residents would be missing if Ocean Downs was not allowed to participate."

The brochure urges residents to contact their elected officials and provides e-mail addresses and telephone numbers for Gov. Robert. L. Ehrlich Jr., the Ocean City mayor and four Eastern Shore legislators.

The brochures apparently urge advocates and opponents of slots at Ocean Downs to weigh in with calls and e-mails to their elected officials.

Lynette Kenney, a legislative aide to Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a Dorchester County Republican, said dozens of people have contacted Colburn's office in response to the Rickman's mailing.

"It's both pro and con," she said. "On the days I've worked, it's been running about 50-50."

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