A conflict between officials of Delaware Park and Maryland's mile thoroughbred tracks erupted into an unexpected public skirmish over interstate simulcast rights yesterday during a meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission.
Bill Rickman Jr., the president of the Delaware track, made a surprising appearance before the board and asked it to shut down the Poor Jimmy's off-track betting parlor in Cecil County.
Rickman said that he is frustrated in his attempts to establish a working relationship with Pimlico/Laurel executives. He said that unless there is cooperation between the tracks, he considers simulcasts of out-of-state races at the Poor Jimmy's outlet near Elkton, about 20 miles from Delaware Park, to be in violation of the Interstate Horse Racing Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1978.
Rickman's complaints stem from Pimlico/Laurel's decision not to simulcast races from Delaware Park twice a week when the Delaware track's live meet opens Saturday.
Rickman said that Delaware's exclusion from the Maryland menu of out-of-state simulcasts "is not only in poor taste, but it is also clearly a violation of federal law."
"That's ridiculous," replied Pimlico/Laurel co-owner and general counsel, Martin Jacobs.
Tracks such as Maryland's, which offer 250 or more days of live racing, are exempt from obtaining simulcast permissions from neighboring tracks, Jacobs said. He added that it is Delaware Park, with far less live racing, that is in violation of federal law by simulcasting out-of-state races without permission from Pimlico/Laurel.
Laurel/Pimlico operator Joe De Francis, who was not at the meeting, said that the Maryland tracks are committed to carrying only a limited number of signals and that carrying the Delaware races "cannibalizes Maryland's live card. We don't consider offering Delaware races a draw."
However, De Francis said, "We'll work something out with them."
Rickman's appearance yesterday interrupted what up to then was described by one board member as "a love fest" between the commission and the Laurel/Pimlico operators.
Commissioner John H. "Jack" Mosner Jr., who announced yesterday that he is resigning after serving eight years on the board, complimented Pimlico/Laurel management on its dramatic financial turnaround in a year's time.
"The difference now is night and day," Mosner said. "The tracks' financial discipline is vastly improved. [Co-owner] Karin De Francis is working hard to develop a better corporate attitude toward employees and customers. I'm pleased that things are headed in the right direction."
Mosner said, however, that the tracks need to continue to emphasize "good, quality earnings reports" after showing a combined 1994 profit of $1.2 million; that expenses need to be tightened; and that Laurel, which operated in the red last year, must show a profit and that the profitability of the tracks should not rely solely on receipts from "one day a year -- the Preakness.
"It seems that your success now rests on your Pimlicos, and not your Laurels," he said.