11/29/2001 12:00AM

New Maryland track advances

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A new racetrack in western Maryland will be licensed if the developers get building and zoning permits and construct the facility on schedule, the Maryland Racing Commission decided Tuesday.

The commission's formal blessing is the first step in what could be a long process to build the first new track in Maryland in 50 years. The project, spearheaded by racetrack owners William Rickman Sr. and his son William Rickman Jr., is already facing fierce opposition from some residents of Allegany County, where the small racetrack would be built.

Anti-gambling opponents of the project say that the Rickmans - who own Delaware Park Racetrack and Slots in Delaware and Ocean Downs in Maryland - plan to use the track to lobby for slot machines in Maryland. Rickman, however, told the commission at the Tuesday hearing that he had no intention of lobbying for slots in Maryland, attendees said.

Ken Schertle, the commission's executive director, said Wednesday that the commission is aware of the difficulty Rickman will face in getting permits in Allegany County. "We're not the place where you fight your battles for permits," Schertle said. "You do that at the local level, not in front of us."