Belmont and Seabrook Will No Longer Run Dogs!

Observations from a Trip To the Tracks

 

By steve vaillancourt

 

It should come as no surprise to regular readers of redhampshire.com since it was strongly hinted here last week, but the speed of the announcement is astounding.

 

Parimutal/Charitable Gaming Director Paul Kelley called me at 1:30 Monday afternoon, in response to a question I’d left for him last Friday, to affirm that the state’s two remaining dog tracks, Belmont and Seabrook, announced this morning that they will not be offering live racing this summer.

 

As part of House Bill 2 passed last Wednesday, all three tracks will be allowed to maintain their simulcast program without holding the 90 days of live racing which had been required. It was widely expected that Belmont would drop live racing which has been a money loser for both the track and the state to regulate.

 

The news from Seabrook came as no real surprise either although it was up in the air with that track even as weekend simulcasting continued at the track. I personally traveled to Seabrook Saturday night. My brother, far more gregarious than I, asked everybody he came into contact with when the live racing schedule would be. Most employees at the track told him that there would be no more live racing; a few referred to a fall schedule. Apparently track owners had not informed all their employees prior to the announcement Monday morning.

 

According to Director Kelley, Rockingham will continue its slate of live harness racing this summer although they will not be required to do so to maintain simulcasting rights.

 

The budget includes approximately $500,000 in state funds to regulate racing this summer, but that amount was removed from next year’s budget. When I asked Director Kelley what his department would do with the unnecessary money, he said regulation costs more at the Rock than the two dog tracks. He also stated that the dog tracks could legally opt to go back to dog racing next summer. That’s entirely true, unless the House and Senate pass something before.

 

Even with that caveat, it appears that the last dog race has been run in New Hampshire.

 

Two Massachusetts tracks continue live racing till the end of the year, butthey will be required to close downDec. 31, 2009(as a result of an initiative which was overwhelming approved by Bay State voters last November).

 

That leaves only a single track (Twin Rivers in Rhode Island) as the only dog racing venue in the Northeast, and there’s plenty of controversy there. Although required to run only 120 days a year,Twin Rivershad been running a full schedule. As part of its recent bankruptcy filing, it decided to pare back to 120 days (remember how I’ve always asserted that live racing was a money loser!), but the Rhode Island Senate, flush with contributions from dog trainers, threatening to stop to state budget unless the number is increased to 200 days. That in fact passed the Senate 31-1 and the RI House 61-9 despite a threatened veto. Thus, despite the track losing $10 million a year and being told to save money by the bankruptcy judge, the RI legislature is making matters worse and wasting state money there.

 

Don’t take my word for it. There are lots of stories in major media on this, so you might try googling Twin River for the latest details in a story that will provide insightnot only into racing but the money behind racing and its undue influence on legislators which Rep. Neal Kurk has spoken about here in New Hampshire.

 

As part of my visit to Belmont and Seabrook over the weekend, I learned that neither is particularly healthy. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, only a few miles away from the Loudon Race Track on one of the busiest weekends of the summer, virtually no one was present to watch the simulcasts at Belmont. Similarly, the charitable gaming tables (adjacent to the simulcast screens) were almost entirely vacant as well. The supposedly elegant restaurant was open more as a bar with only three people there drinking and nobody eating. The only noteworthy people at Belmont were off in another room waiting for a Texas Hole’em Poker Tournament to begin.

 

Apparently, it’s true that up 70-80 percent of Belmont’s business comes from out of state telephone bettors. When I asked if I could set up a telephone account, I was told no problem. When I noted how Hinsdale, during its bankruptcy, had taken money from the accounts of telephone bettors, I was told that is no longer possible here due to state law (regulations maybe, I thought, but we certainly haven’t changed any laws).

 

No dogs were available for adoption at Belmont despite numerous brochures advertising adoption at the facility.

 

Seabrook, Satruday night at 7 p.m., was much busier, at all three levels–simulcast wagerers, charitable gaming tables, and the Texas Hold’em room. There were up to 50 people in various areas watching simulcast races, both dog and horse races. The area was littered with “losing” tickets, thus helping to dispel the rumor that people pick up losing tickets to offset their taxable winnings.

 

(When I asked if they were losing tickets, one gambler joked, “No they’re winners but people have made so much, they don’t want ‘em.” Talk about gallows humor!)

 

Two Texas Hold’em tournaments were going strongly at Seabrook, and the charitable gaming room (separated from the simulcast area) was lively. I can personally attest to that. Many of you know that I’m a fan of Black Jack, so I decided to test it out. Dealers were pleasant; it was great fun. Except for the fact that you lost part of your bet in a tie, something no real casino would dare do, it was very much like my experience at the Montreal casino. Even the losing “push” bets was no real problem since I was betting only a dollar a hand (max is $4), and the manager of the room said card counters are welcome, no surprise since card counters win by upping their bets from $25 to $500 when the shoe runs in their favor (no way to go to $500 when the limit is $4).

 

My brother received mixed answers when asked if greyhounds were on site for adoption at Seabrook. One woman tried to explain how he’d have to come back Monday to find out; her supervisor told her not to say anything (maybe she saw me in the background).

 

Oh yes, there was free coffee at Belmont, not so at Seabrook.

 

Oh yes, I won $12.50 and tipped the dealer a couple of 50 cent pieces. Had my brother and his wife not been bored to tears and “begged” to leave, I’d probably have stayed till closing and lost it all back. Thanks, Bro!