NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 9, 2013

Seabrook races to save dog track jobs

Park owner says bill could lead to closure

By Angeljean Chiaramida
STAFF WRITER

---- — SEABROOK — The fate of 150 local jobs was debated at the Statehouse in Concord this week, as the Ways and Means Committee considered a bill that could shut the doors of Seabrook Greyhound Park forever.

New Hampshire House Bill 564 would prevent the Seabrook park from simulcasting dog races originating in any jurisdiction that doesn’t make available to the public the injury records of racing greyhounds.

According to Seabrook Greyhound Park President Karen Keeland, such a move would eliminate 85 percent of the greyhound simulcast races at the park, ultimately shutting the venue down.

On Wednesday, Keeland brought her concerns to the Board of Selectmen, outlining the impact the bill could have on the business her father founded 40 years ago.

After anti-greyhound racing advocates succeeded in prohibiting live dog racing in New Hampshire in 2010 through the passage of legislation, Keeland said the park has survived primarily by simulcasting greyhound racing from other states as well as harness and thoroughbred horse racing throughout the nation.

Although the park is also a charity poker venue, Keeland said greyhound racing simulcast is the most lucrative part of the business.

The loss of live greyhound racing at the park resulted in scores of layoffs at the park, Keeland said. Now, she has issued a letter to her remaining 150 employees, about half of whom work full-time, saying if the current bill becomes law, they will lose their jobs.

“I hated sending out the letter, but I felt our employees deserved to know what could happen to them,” Kneeland said after the selectmen’s meeting. “Some of them have worked at the park for 40 years, ever since it opened.”

Selectmen Ed Hess, Brendan Kelly and Aboul Khan traveled to Concord Thursday to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee about what the loss of that many jobs would mean to the town, the Seacoast and the state in an economy that’s struggling. Khan, one of Seabrook’s four House members, said he’ll do his best to hamper the bill’s process.

“I’ll work to kill the bill in committee,” Khan told Keeland.

Members of the Ways and Means Committee will vote to recommend or reject the bill before passing it along to other committees and the full House. Khan said a vote of “inexpedient to legislate” from the Ways and Mean Committee could stall the bill’s momentum when it gets to the House floor for a full vote. If the bill dies in the House, it will never be heard in the Senate.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, the state will lose money if Seabrook Greyhound Park shuts down. The Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission estimated that as introduced, if the bill becomes law, the state would lose $190,926 annually starting in fiscal 2014.

But gaming revenue isn’t the only income the cash-strapped Granite State stands to lose if Seabrook Greyhound Park “goes down the tubes,” Keeland said. Her company pays business profits and business enterprise taxes. In addition, ancillary state tax revenue, including monies generated when patrons purchase food, liquor or cigarettes at the park or gas when they travel in the state, would be hit. And rising unemployment is never good for an economy, for it drains state and local resources, she said.

The impact on the town of Seabrook would also be huge. Not only are many of the park’s employees from Seabrook and neighboring towns, but selectmen said Seabrook Greyhound Park contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to town coffers.

Tax collector Lillian Knowles said the track paid more than $143,000 in property taxes in 2012.

According to Seabrook treasurer Oliver Carter Jr., Seabrook Greyhound Park kicks in between $300 to $400 a day to the town coffers. The town gets a $300 daily payment Monday through Saturday and $400 on Sundays. On days when the handle — or total wagered — is more than $300,000, $50 is added to the daily payment, Carter said.

The money goes to the town’s general fund to reduce the tax rate and helps out all taxpayers, Carter said.

“Last year, the track paid us $112,850,” Carter said. “It was a little off because it was closed a couple of days during a power outage.”

The track also makes additional contributions to Seabrook’s Scholarship Fund, amounting to as much as $40,000 some years, Carter said.

Keeland said the bill — filed by controversial state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt — is another attempt by anti-greyhound racing advocates, such as Massachusetts-based Grey2K USA, to kill the sport completely.

The group was behind the successful move to end live greyhound racing in New Hampshire in 2010, she said.

According to Grey2K USA’s website, the group is soliciting people to contact state legislators to help pass Vaillancourt’s bill.

In a written statement. Vaillancourt said only seven states in the country continue to allow greyhound racing. Of those states, only three refuse to mandate that injury records be maintained, with only Florida really at play in this bill.

Vaillancourt insists his bill would not end greyhound racing, nor would it halt simulcasting of greyhound racing at either Seabrook or Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H. He also said it would not cost New Hampshire any jobs and despite what was estimated in the bill’s fiscal note, it would most likely not lead to any loss of revenue for New Hampshire.