UPDATED: Joint Venture To Buy Casino At Ocean Downs; Churchill Downs, Saratoga Casino Partner For Purchase

UPDATED: Joint Venture To Buy Casino At Ocean Downs; Churchill Downs, Saratoga Casino Partner For Purchase
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BERLIN – Churchill Downs Incorporated and Saratoga Casino Holdings announced Tuesday that they plan to purchase the Casino at Ocean Downs.

The two major racing entities will buy the racetrack and casino but long-time owner William Rickman Jr. will stay on as senior advisor.

“This was a great opportunity to continue what we have started and turn Ocean Downs over to two organizations with worldwide reputations for excellence in gaming and horse racing,” Rickman said. “We feel very confident that the future of Ocean Downs couldn’t be in better hands. I will be working with them closely over the coming years to make sure this is a success.”

Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) and Saratoga Casino Holdings (SCH) announced their joint venture to purchase Ocean Enterprise 589 LLC, Ocean Downs LLC and Racing Services LLC — the companies that operate the casino and racetrack — on Tuesday. The two groups formed a new company, Old Bay Gaming and Racing, of which they each own 50 percent, to execute the sale.

“By virtue of its twenty five percent ownership of SCH, CDI will indirectly own an additional twelve and one-half percent of Buyer for a total interest in Buyer of sixty-two and one-half percent,” the release states. “The economic terms of the transaction are confidential.”

After the sale, which is expected to close later this year, Rickman will act as senior advisor while Denise Hill will remain in her role as the facility’s government relations director. Joe Cavilla will continue in his role as general manager of the Casino at Ocean Downs.

Worcester County Commissioner Bud Church said he learned of the sale Tuesday evening with a call from Rickman himself. After the phone conversation, Church feels confident the transaction will be a good thing for Worcester County.

“He assured me the buyers are first-class operations and that they will enhance Ocean Downs and would actually bring in more revenues for the county and state,” Church said. “He also told me that the governor was in full support of it as was Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch. That came from the horse’s mouth.”

The Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association (CSOA), the group that represents the horsemen who race at Ocean Downs, is excited about the sale according to its president, Tom Cooke. He said he was assured by Bill Fasy, the racetrack’s chief operating officer, that the sale would be good for the facility.

“Bill was confident this would be a good acquisition,” Cooke said. “He said these were good people who were serious about racing.”

Cooke informed the CSOA board of the news Tuesday night.

“There was overwhelming enthusiasm,” he said.

He added that he was glad to see that Rickman would stay involved with the facility.

“He’ll be a valuable asset,” Cooke said. “We’ve enjoyed working with Ocean Downs tremendously. There’s been a wonderful level of cooperation. I hope the people we’ve been working with will be the ones we continue to work with.”

Cooke said that Maryland horsemen were in a unique situation as both of the state’s harness racing tracks, Ocean Downs and Rosecroft Raceway, would have new owners. The Stronach Group — which owns Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park — agreed to buy Rosecroft this spring.

“We believe that between the Stronach Group and Churchill and Saratoga thing will work out well,” he said.

The 168-acre Ocean Downs, which has been offering live harness racing since 1949, has been owned by Rickman since 2000. When slots were approved in Maryland he established the Casino at Ocean Downs, which now features 800 video lottery machines and electronic table games.

“We have absolutely enjoyed the opportunity to build a wonderful gaming facility at Ocean Downs, enhance the state horse racing industry and support the people of our community and the state of Maryland with jobs and additional tax revenue for the past 16 years,” Rickman said.

Though the facility received approval for a 35,000 square foot addition in 2013, the expansion, which was to include the addition of table games, has not yet occurred.

The sale of the property is subject to the approval of all relevant government authorities, including the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency and the Maryland Racing Commission.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.