Proposed Maryland Track Hits Another Snag

The Maryland Racing Commission on Thursday abruptly cut off testimony concerning construction of a racetrack in the western part of the state so opposing sides could work on an agreement to expedite the tedious process.

William Rickman Jr., who wants to build the track in remote Allegany County, offered to write a letter of credit to guarantee its financial viability and stability. Rickman, who owns and Delaware Park and Ocean Downs, a Maryland harness track, 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 facility that would host Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing three weeks a year, and operate as an off-track betting center year-round. His chief opponent is the Maryland Jockey Club, whose executives operate Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park. They say the off-track betting parlors Rickman wants to build in conjunction with the track would hurt Maryland racing.

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

As stipulated by state regulation, the 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.

When the racing commission adopted the regulations, it expected several parties to compete for the license. Phase one was designed to winnow the process to one.

With Rickman as the lone applicant, testimony originally set for phase one could perhaps be postponed until phase two. According to regulations, phase two would begin within six months of the conclusion of phase one.