By BOBBY MCMAHON
ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 24, 2009)—After almost a year of meetings, processes and plans, the first new slot machine parlors are on their way to Maryland.
In a 7-0 vote, the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission granted a license to put 800 slot machines at Ocean Downs, a harness racetrack in Worcester County. Once up and running, the facility is estimated to employ 400 people and eventually bring more than $67 million in tax revenue and fees to the state and county every year.
Reading from a statement prepared before the meeting, Commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said that Ocean Downs owner William Rickman and his partners "represent a strong management team and possess more than sufficient financial and business resources to operate a successful video lottery facility."
To secure a license for 800 slots, Rickman submitted a proposal in February and paid $4.8 million in fees. Rickman said his next step would be to obtain a building permit and begin construction.
In his proposal, Rickman said he might request an additional 700 slot machines in the future. Worcester County was allotted up to 2,500 machines in last year's referendum.
After the meeting, Rickman appeared subdued.
"Do you know how long this has taken? It's taken a long time," Rickman told reporters when asked why he seemed so low key about receiving the first slots license since last year's referendum.
"When you get in a long drawn out process like this, it wears you down," Rickman said. He hopes to open the parlor by May 2010.
In considering Rickman's proposal, the commission reviewed an independent background study, which found that the developer had "more than sufficient" money to fund the casino as well as possessed "sufficient business ability and experience," based on his success owning and running the Delaware Park Racing and Slots in Wilmington.
The study also did not find any "information that would call into question" the "character, honesty or experience" of Rickman and his partners.
While the license for Ocean Downs was unanimously approved, several commission members, including Robert Neall and D. Bruce Poole, expressed concern with how the facility could compete with more established slots casinos in neighboring states, particularly those in Delaware, which have been operating for more than a decade.
Up next, Fry said the commission would receive a status report on the Anne Arundel County and Baltimore sites at its Oct. 7 meeting, and anticipated that a decision on the Cecil County bid would come at the Oct. 21 meeting.
Buddy Roogow, director of the state lottery, said during the meeting that the background investigations into the Anne Arundel County bid would be completed in "the next several weeks," but gave no indication of when a similar investigation into the Baltimore developers would be completed.
"Our investigator is moving with due speed," Roogow said of the Baltimore investigation, "reviewing the information that's provided and doing everything they can do to get the necessary information. I think it's coming, but I'm hesitant to give you a date."
Penn National Gaming's bid to put a slots parlor in Perryville in Cecil County has passed a background investigation by the State Lottery Commission, clearing the way for the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission to vote on granting them a license. While the bidder has only submitted the fees and plans for a 500-machine casino, they have said publicly that they are planning to increase that number to 1,500.
Fry noted, though, that the commission has yet to receive both the updated proposal and the required fees that go along with it.
"From the meeting we had with them in Cecil County, I think we left that meeting fairly certain that that was going to be forthcoming," Fry said. "I anticipate that we'll be moving forward with their proposal sometime in October, so, if that's their intention, hopefully that'll be received in the near future."
Maryland voters approved 15,000 slots at five localities in the state in a referendum last November, but the process has been marked by strong debate about where slots should be located. But Fry, speaking after the meeting, said the commission made its decision in a fairly short period of time, and that its decision told Marylanders they would see slots soon.
"Something is clearly going to happen. By our action today, we're showing that this is moving forward," Fry said. "For people who've said 'Are we ever going to see slots in Maryland,' based upon the representation of Mr. Rickman, we're going to see slots next Memorial Day."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.