Ocean Downs racetrack in Maryland was the first in the state to get a license for slot machine gambling, but the license sits idle as the owner faces a delay over asbestos discovered during remodeling.
The license, awarded on September 23 of 2009, would have made Ocean Downs the first of five locations in the state to operate slot machines. In Ocean Downs case, the license was for 800 machines – 600 at opening, and 200 more over the next two years – but the opening, originally scheduled for Monday, May 31 (Memorial Day), 2010, will be set forward, and Ocean Downs may be the second gambling site to open after a Maryland referendum in November of 2008 authorized slots gambling.
The first opening may occur instead at an Anne Arundel County site, which won the second license. Meanwhile, William Rickman, owner of the Ocean Downs proposed slots enterprise through his company, Ocean Enterprise 589 LLC, struggles with asbestos in the racetrack’s clubhouse and faulty steel beams in what was formerly the grandstand to an old race track. The buildings are located on Route 589 near Ocean Pines.
The asbestos is the worst of it, since asbestos removal requires not only advance notice to state and regional air quality control regulators obtain removal permitting, but the hiring of qualified removal technicians, which do not come cheaply.
The amount of asbestos has been described as “substantial”, and Rickman – who sent a notice of delay to the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission – has said the delay will be indefinite, or until further notice.
Asbestos, a fibrous inosilicate mineral mined and widely used during most of the last century in insulative products, building products, automotive products and even some household products, can – with long exposure – produce asbestosis, a respiratory disease. It is also the only known cause of mesothelioma.
By the early 1960s, the dangers of asbestos were becoming recognized. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepped in to limit asbestos use in domestic product to one percent (or less). This was very good news for construction and automotive industry workers – since a single exposure can cause mesothelioma – but did little to alleviate the asbestos legacy that the nation faces from now until 2030, at which time workers exposed to asbestos will have passed the 50-year threshold that corresponds to the maximum dormancy period of mesothelioma. Until then, an estimated 10,000 workers per year will die of asbestos-related illnesses.
The cost of the delay to Rickman’s plan to convert the 34,000-square-foot grandstand into a casino area can’t be estimated, at least in terms of lost revenues, but neither can the savings to the state and nation in terms of asbestos-related illnesses not acquired through exposure at this particular location. And the discovery, by remodeling crews – that the roof panels date back to the original construction in 1948, when asbestos was hugely prevalent in the construction industry – are proof that delays can sometimes be a good thing.
Donald Fry, chairman of the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission, has already assured Rickman and others that the delay will in no way jeopardize the permit, and has even offered to temporarily reduce the size of the slot machine allotment – which could be put in the clubhouse – until the larger, grandstand facility is renovated.