Piontkowski’s exit ends a great rivalry

Gary Piontkowski this week announced he was leaving Plainridge Racecourse.
Gary Piontkowski this week announced he was leaving Plainridge Racecourse.

The most shocking news this week in the realm of Bay State gambling has to be the unexpected retirement of Plainridge Racecourse President Gary Piontkowski, due to health reasons.

Piontkowski had been fighting for the right to add slot machines to Plainridge Racecourse since he founded the Plainville track in 1997. I remember him last year showing me a $400,000 check, made out to the state gambling commission to cover the slot license application fee. Piontkowski held the check in a folder on his lap at a gambling commission meeting. The commission at the time was not yet ready to accept fees, but Piontkowski had brought it just in case. After years of struggling and lobbying to get a casino bill passed on Beacon Hill, he badly wanted to be the first to apply. A few days later, he was.

It has to hurt to bow out now, just months before the commission awards a slots license. And Piontkowski’s exit is not simply a reduction in responsibilities: He sold his stake in the venture to his partners, a track spokesman confirmed. He is all the way out.

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Plainridge’s pursuit of a slots license will go on, but Piontkowski’s exit ends one of the great rivalries in Massachusetts racing and politics. Piontkowski’s arch-rival, George Carney, has applied for the slots license at Raynham Park. The two men don’t much care for each other, and it would have been can’t-miss theater to watch them battle for the lucrative license, along with two other companies.

When I wrote about their competition last year, the longtime rivals were refreshingly candid about each other:

“We’ve had a lot of business battles, and, yes, it has turned personal sometimes,’’ said Piontkowski, when asked about Carney.

“I don’t dislike him,’’ Carney said in return, not very convincingly, in a separate interview. “We’ve just always had a bad relationship.”

I couldn’t reach Piontkowski on Friday. I understand he is home concentrating on his health, and planning to watch a lot of horse racing.