Race track could mean jobs for Hancock

February 02, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

If a proposal to open a race track in Western Maryland becomes reality that could be good economic news for Hancock, the town's mayor said Wednesday.

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"There could be jobs tied to that. I'll anxiously wait to hear more," Mayor Daniel Murphy said.

He said he could not endorse the project, however, because he had no details of the plan.

Maryland horse-racing executive Joseph A. De Francis has said he will compete with Delaware track owner William Rickman Jr. for a new racing license in Allegany County.

The General Assembly passed a law last year creating the new license specifically for Allegany County. Supporters, led by Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, D- Allegany, contend a horse track would boost the region's weak economy.


On Wednesday, Rickman revealed the location of his proposed racing complex, a 112-acre parcel on the south side of Interstate 68 near Piney Grove, about 23 miles east of Cumberland.

Rickman has proposed building a $10 million complex with tracks for both thoroughbred and harness racing. He also proposes building as many as five off-track betting parlors statewide to compete with Maryland Jockey Club OTBs and subsidize the new track.

His proposed track location is about as close to Hancock as you can get and still be in Allegany County," Murphy said.

Hancock would be the nearest municipality to the track and racing fans traveling from Baltimore and other cities would pass it on the highway, he said. The result could mean more traffic and business in Hancock, he said.

"Anything that improves the economy, I am in favor of it," Hancock Town Manager Louis O. Close said. "But I'd rather have a NASCAR track."

Dickie Moore, general manager of racing operations at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, W. Va., said he needed to hear more details about the planned track before he could gauge what it would mean to that thoroughbred track.

"Any competition is at least a little detrimental," he said.

But Moore said he doesn't think there would be much impact. "We will wait and see. Time will tell," he said.

If the horse track were built "in the middle of nowhere," it will be harder to draw fans than it would in a populated area, said Dick Watson, president of the Charles Town Division, Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Watson questioned whether a race track in Allegany County would draw enough horses and fans.

"I would have to question the viability of it based on their location," Watson said. "I don't think it will have a significant effect on the races in Charles Town."

De Francis and Rickman are the only announced bidders for the racing license so far. Applications are due to the Maryland Racing Commission by March 2. The commission would have until October to award - or not award - the license for a new track.

De Francis is the head of the company that owns Maryland's two major tracks, Pimlico and Laurel Park.

Rickman is a Montgomery County developer whose family owns Delaware Park near Wilmington, Del.

De Francis said Tuesday that any new track in western Maryland should be run in cooperation, not competition, with the rest of the state's racing industry.

De Francis said a Rickman operation would draw business away from his tracks in central Maryland that already are subsidized by state grants.

He said the state supports those tracks largely because of Rickman's operation at Delaware Park, where slot machine profits have fattened the purses, creating competition for bettors and Maryland horses.

"I would have to ask what the slots king of Delaware is doing coming into Maryland," De Francis said.

Rickman countered that the big purses at Delaware Park have benefited Maryland horsemen, who win about 30 percent of them.

He said he had no problem with De Francis competing for the western Maryland license.

"It's an open market out there. He has every right to attempt to get it. I wish him well if he does," Rickman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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