R.I. bill forces racing at struggling dog track

By Ray Henry
Associated Press / June 27, 2009
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PROVIDENCE - The Rhode Island House voted yesterday to force a financially struggling gambling hall to expand its schedule of greyhound races, even as its owners and Governor Donald L. Carcieri seek to end the money-losing races and protect millions of dollars in state income from its slot machines.

The bill approved by a 60-11 vote requires Twin River in Lincoln to host 200 days of greyhound racing instead of the current 125 days. It also permits the racetrack to allow gambling around-the-clock. Right now, Twin River can conduct 24-hour gambling only on weekends and holidays.

Since the bill was revised on the House floor, it now heads back to the Senate, which earlier approved it.

“We commend our lawmakers for choosing to protect jobs and taxpayer revenue rather than lining the pockets of the big banks,’’ said Jennifer Bramley, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Greyhound Owners Association, which warned that ending the races would cost more than 200 jobs.

UTGR Inc., the owner of Twin River, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week as it struggles to repay more than a half-billion dollars in debt. As part of a deal with Carcieri’s administration, it wanted legislative permission to end greyhound racing, which the company says loses $10.5 million annually.

If a bankruptcy settlement cannot be reached, it could endanger $238 million in income the cash-strapped state expects to get from slot machines at Lincoln Park. While bettors wagered about $150 million on greyhound races in 1990, that sum has dropped to around $13 million, according to state records.

Carcieri will veto the legislation when it arrives on his desk, said his spokeswoman, Amy Kempe.

“It’s an outdated form of gambling and it’s a drain on the facility,’’ Kempe said.

Carcieri’s administration earlier warned the legislation could turn a structured bankruptcy settlement into a “protracted, free-all proceeding’’ and cause millions of dollars in lost revenue for the state. As a pressure tactic, Senate lawmakers refused to vote on a $7.8 billion state budget plan until bill supporters saw movement on the greyhound racing bill, among other issues.