Hopes Dim for Chances of Racing at Rockingham

Given the lack of political will to enact casino gambling in New Hampshire during the current legislative session, Rockingham Park appears headed to the sales block for redevelopment.
"The board of directors is determining what its next move will be," said Ed Callahan, president and general manager of the track that opened in 1906. "There will be a meeting at the beginning of February to decide all of that. It will likely be that the property will go on the market in the next month or two."
Consequently, the sliver of hope live racing would ever return to Rockingham, which last hosted a Thoroughbred meet in 2002 and a harness meet in 2009, grows increasingly dimmer.
"I would say that is correct," Callahan said. "The legislature does not seem to support that end of the equation."
For more than 20 years state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro has championed various bills to allow casino gambling in New Hampshire and revitalize the track, whose owners struck a deal with Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas in 2007 for a purchase-and-sales option should favorable legislation pass and the gaming company successfully acquire an operational license.
"With the start of the new legislative session, Sen. D'Allesandro filed a new bill to allow one facility (a destination casino) in the state that would be sited at Rockingham Park specifically and exclusively. We do not anticipate that bill will go very far," Callahan said.
The 400-member House of Representatives last April killed—by the lopsided vote of 208-156—a bill calling for two casinos that had passed the Senate with solid bipartisan support. The House has voted down every piece of casino legislation brought to the floor in modern times.
Millennium co-owner and co-chief executive officer William Wortman, who privately owns 20% of the track, consistently maintained that the restoration of live Thoroughbred racing was part of the Rockingham redevelopment plans as long as market conditions were favorable and it was economically feasible.
"Rockingham still a relationship with Millennium, but they do not anticipate there will be passage of any (casino) gaming legislation in the next year," said Callahan, who noted the future political scene doesn't look any brighter no matter which party wins the November elections.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives the week of Jan. 18 is slated to vote on a bill to allow keno across the state. Last year the same bill passed the House but failed in the Senate and was sent to interim study.
Another piece of legislation to authorize up to six slot machines in any liquor-licensed establishment has been introduced.
"Whether or not those (bills) will go anywhere is anybody's guess," Callahan said. "I would not be surprised to see keno pass but not the other bill."
One year ago, 50 acres comprising about 75% of the stable area of the 161-acre track was sold for $9.6 million to a local developer, who in turn subdivided five acres and sold the parcel to an automobile dealer. The barns, dormitories, and other structures on the backside are currently being demolished.
But Rockingham's clubhouse remains open year-round for full-card Thoroughbred, harness, and Greyhound simulcasts; charitable gaming; and other events.
"We will continue to operate and I anticipate we will be around for the next couple of years," Callahan said.

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