By Lynne Snierson
The State of New Hampshire has repealed the onerous 10% tax on gambling winnings that drove bettors away from racetracks and caused a multi-million dollar drop in the Thoroughbred simulcast handle.
Governor John Lynch signed HB 229 the week of May 9 and the repeal of the law, which was enacted in 2009 and affected winnings over $600, is expected to become official May 23.
“Repealing this tax is a really big deal,” said Rick Newman, the lobbyist and spokesman for The Lodge at Belmont, the former dog track which stopped all Thoroughbred, harness, and greyhound simulcasting in mid December 2010. “What they (the legislature) did to the racing industry in New Hampshire might be something that cannot be undone. They took the gamblers and sent them over the border. The effect was that the handle dropped significantly.”
While Paul Kelley, the executive director of the state’s charitable gaming and racing commission, said it is difficult to ascribe a hard number to how much business was lost, handle figures that are public record prove the damage to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
In the 2010 calendar year alone, the amount of money bet on simulcast Thoroughbred races at Rockingham Park, The Lodge, and Yankee Greyhound Park dropped by a combined $19,438,111. The overall handle at the three tracks, which no longer conduct live racing of any breed but also simulcast harness and greyhound racing, was off a total of $24,064,567.
The figures for the first five months in 2011 are not complete, but handle reported to the state has continued to decline.
“It’s been two years since this tax was put in place, and hopefully, the people who left have not become too comfortable betting someplace else and will return to the track,” said Rockingham president and general manager Ed Calllahan. “I expect there will be slow growth over the next five or six months as people recognize that this very detrimental tax has gone away.”
Newman said now the tax has been repealed, the Lodge may reapply for its license and resume the simulcasting operation.
“We are definitely hoping to do that and hope to be ready to go by Labor Day,” he said. “We probably lost 100 jobs (when simulcasting was stopped) and we’ll try to get those back.”
Meanwhile, there are no plans to bring back live racing in New Hampshire. Greyhound racing is now outlawed and Rockingham Park, the state’s only horse racing track, last held a Thoroughbred meet in 2002 and has not raced Standardbreds since 2009.