- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | After years of struggles to legalize slot machines in Maryland, a state commission unanimously approved the state’s first slots parlor license Wednesday at an Eastern Shore horse-racing track near Ocean City.

The commission approved the license after getting confirmation of a positive background investigation into Ocean Downs, owned by William Rickman, who has run Delaware Park, a slot machine venture in Wilmington, Del.

Now, Mr. Rickman will seek a building permit.

“I do believe that the local jurisdictions will work with us … since we are renovating an existing facility. That should speed up the process, so I’m not looking for that to be untimely,” Mr. Rickman told reporters after the vote.

Ocean Downs will be able to proceed with his proposal for 800 machines at the track, and Mr. Rickman said the slots facility could be operational by Memorial Day next year. Mr. Rickman expressed confidence that the slots parlor will be able to compete.

Mr. Rickman also could expand the number of machines, because a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year would allow up to 2,500 machines at the track. He said he’ll have to see how business is before moving forward with more machines.

“This is a very slow process,” Mr. Rickman said. “This is a very tough economic time, so you basically have to see how you do.”

The board’s vote came after a background investigation into the viability of a slot machine venture at Ocean Downs.

“The investigation revealed that Mr. Rickman is certainly financially stable and no information has been developed or uncovered that would call into question the integrity or responsibility of this applicant or any of the listed principals,” said Buddy Roogow, director of the Maryland Lottery.

The board’s vote was a landmark one in a political struggle that has spanned several administrations in Maryland. In November 2007, the Legislature voted to put the legalization of slot machines on the ballot in a constitutional amendment for voters to decide after years of political gridlock on the issue.

Voters approved the amendment in November, allowing up to 15,000 slot machines at five locations.

But the nation’s recession took a toll on the bidding process and developers only bid on 6,500 machines at four spots, including Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties, where Ocean Downs is located, and Baltimore city.

Mr. Roogow said he is confident that the Cecil County site, which received a bid by Penn National Gaming, is progressing toward getting a license.

He told board members he expected that “you’ll have the necessary information to act on that very, very soon.”

The two other sites, though, appear not to be as far along in the process, Mr. Roogow said.

The Anne Arundel County site, which would be near Arundel Mills shopping mall, is mired in a zoning battle with local officials.

“In Baltimore city, you do have a combination of multiple partners who are involved in the process, and that’s just taking a little bit longer - [I] think from what we’re hearing from the state lottery agency,” said commission Chairman Donald Fry.

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