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In dog racing’s final days, bettors and workers on edge

Slot machine proposal is key to track’s survival

Ken Wagner looked to make a bet while at Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park last weekend. Ken Wagner looked to make a bet while at Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park last weekend. (Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff)
By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / December 18, 2009

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RAYNHAM - Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park has been on the decline since it set a world record for collecting $240 million in dog racing revenue in one year, back in 1989.

The 69-year-old Raynham track hasn’t been a significant moneymaker for owner George Carney since the 1990s, when casinos and slot parlors began drawing the betting crowd down to Connecticut and Rhode Island.

A statewide ban prohibiting live dog racing goes into effect Jan. 1 and the track announced its last live race is Dec. 26.

Eighty-year-old Elsie Sanford has been coming to the park for 40 years. She even owned some of the dogs that raced there. “I’ll cry when they stop,’’ she said. “I have a lot of great memories here. And where will we all go?’’

Attendance at Raynham, where enthusiasts stood 30-deep to watch live racing back in the 1980s, has thinned to small groups of gamblers who track races via simulcast monitors. The elderly, who still come to the park in Raynham daily, tend to prefer live racing. That schedule has been cut back in recent months as kennel owners, in anticipation of the ban, move their dogs to other states.

Carney, 81, a feisty businessman who fought hard against the racing ban prior to its approval in 2008, now says it’s time to let it go.

“It’s like life,’’ Carney said last week. “You get up and go on to the next venture. I’m not going to waste my time spinning my wheels.’’

That next venture is installing slot machines at the track, which Carney hopes will be approved by state legislators as part of expanded gaming sometime early next year.

“I feel I can make it successful and take care of all the people here,’’ he said.

The track will continue simulcasting races from other racetracks until July 31, 2010.

The state’s only other dog track, Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, ran its last live race in September, but still offers betting on simulcast races.

About one-third of the Raynham-Taunton track’s 600 full- and part-time employees will be let go at the end of the year, track officials said. Longtime track general manager Gary Temple is already out on what he labels “a sabbatical,’’ but he said he hopes to return if slots are approved.

Some workers don’t know yet whether they will be kept or laid off. And as the end of live racing draws near, tension increases. “I’m devastated about what’s happening,’’ said Janet Snow, a 64-year-old teller who hands out betting slips. “I’ve been here 40 years and raised two boys and put them through college. It’s been a big part of my life.’’

Sharon Butts, who has worked at the park for 26 years, said she still isn’t sure whether she’s on the layoff list. Her schedule has already been trimmed. Customers, Butts said, really don’t understand what is going on. “People still can’t believe we’re not going to have live racing here,’’ she said.

Carney prefers to look to the future. “If we get slots, all the people we let go will have an opportunity to come back,’’ he said. “And we’ll even need maybe 600 more workers.’’

The Brockton businessman has already gone to Pennsylvania to check out a temporary portable slot parlor he could use while his buildings are permanently outfitted for slots. “If we get the green light, we could be up and running in 90 to 100 days.’’

Elsie Sanford comes to the track as often as five times a week, meeting a group of friends there, including Edith and Bill Qualters, who adopted a greyhound named Sandy, who once raced at the track.

“Bill is really outraged about the end of live racing,’’ said Edith. “We’ll still come, but it’s going to be very sad.’’

Kennel owner and trainer Mike Curran continues to run dogs in Raynham, but is getting ready to leave his lifelong home in New England and head south with his animals. “I’m not excited,’’ he said. “I’m having a tough time sleeping at night, and it’s hard to go to work because it’s so depressing.’’

While most of the dogs are being sent out of state to run, some are being adopted, Carney said. His son Christopher is working with GREY2K USA and the MSPCA - two agencies that vigorously promoted the racing ban - on placement of dogs. But the trainers are doing most of the placement, the elder Carney said.

Carney, who first started working at Raynham in 1942 for $4 a day, leading greyhounds out to the starting line, purchased the Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park in 1966.

He plans to watch the last live race when it is run on Dec. 26.

“I feel very badly about this. It’s like going to the doctor’s office and getting bad news. The more you think about it the worse the news gets,’’ said Carney. “So many people have benefited from the track - it’s a hard pill to swallow but you have to take it and move on.’’

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com