Rockingham Park Could Close Doors in 2016
Local Organizations Would Lose Nearly $2 Million AnnuallyDecember 20, 2013 by S. Aaron Shamshoyan
Nearly 40 area non-profits and organizations rely on charitable gambling to supplement a large portion of their annual budget, but failure by state lawmakers to pass an expanded gaming bill and threats of southern competition could cause that funding source to fold.
Organizations involved in charitable gaming at Rockingham Park earn an average of $53,000 a year. Members are required to assist in the operation of games of chance about once a month. All organizations combined raise nearly $2 million at Rockingham Park alone.
Salem Kiwanis President Tony Fabrizio said Rockingham Park provides a majority of the organization’s revenue. “Most of our fundraising is through gaming at Rockingham Park,” he said. The organization uses that money to support programs such as the Kelley Library Summer Reading Program and Make a Wish Dinner, in addition to annual donations between $5,000 and $10,000 to the Tufts Medical Center Pediatric Trauma Division.
The Knights of Columbus also fear the loss of charitable gaming. “If we lost Rockingham Park, we’d lose about $50,000 to $60,000 a year,” Finance Manager Gene Bryant said. The Knights help fund various charities including Catholic Charities in Manchester and Lazarus Houses. “The charity gaming at Rockingham Park really makes a huge difference,” Bryant said.
Both groups also support the Boys & Girls Club. “Gaming has been a substantial stream of revenue for the club for many years,” Chief Professional Officer Michael Centor said.
Organizations such as Kiwanis, the Knights of Columbus and the Arlington Pond Protective Association helped fund the installation of a new gymnasium floor recently at the club. Centor said the organizations raised $30,000 to fund half the project.
Losing donations isn’t the only funding threat the club would have to face if charitable gaming were to end. The Boys & Girls Club is a member of Rockingham Park’s charitable gaming and received close to $100,000 a year between games of chance and bingo, also hosted at the track. Centor said the funds are relied upon as club membership increases.
“We continue to see new members and registrations walk through the door,” Centor said. About 300 members attend the club daily and over 3,000 are registered, an increase of 450 from 2012. Centor said nearly 10 percent of the club’s budget was received from gaming. “Without gaming, it will be that much more of an uphill struggle,” he said about raising funds.
Competition is already creating a problem for charities. Centor said the Aquasino, a casino boat, launched earlier this year in Lynn, Massachusetts and other southern casino expansions have caused a reduction in revenue. Between games of chance and bingo, Centor said funds have declined about $20,000.
Rockingham Park President and General Manager Ed Callahan believes expanded gaming will pass in the state soon. “The hope is that the legislature will do something in the next year or two,” he said.
A gaming oversight committee is being established to help ease concerns of naysayers to expanded gaming. “Their charge is to provide rules and regulations for a casino for the next session of the legislature,” Callahan said.
Earlier this year, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to kill Senate Bill 152, which would have allowed expansion of video lottery machines in the state. The bill would have required casinos allocate space for charitable gaming, and that if revenues were to decline, the casino would have to provide the difference.
Callahan said Rockingham Park needs expanded gaming to survive. “If the state doesn’t do anything, Rockingham and Seabrook won’t be the only charitable rooms we’ll end up closing down.” That would mean a significant impact on non-profits and charities south of Manchester.
“Salem and Seabrook raise nearly 60 percent of the state’s charitable revenue”, Callahan said. Massachusetts competition will also create a problem for the track. “If a casino opens up in Massachusetts in early 2016, than Rockingham Park’s not going to make it,” he said.
The competition would take customers and employees according to Callahan. Eighty percent of poker room customers are from Massachusetts and a closer casino without the limited maximum bet and a better atmosphere could be more attractive. “Employees would be driven to higher wages and bigger tips”, he said.
And if expanded gaming doesn’t pass in the state, park owners could entertain development options for the 126-acre property in late 2015.
Callahan said the state would lose nearly $2 million in revenues if the park closed and if a Massachusetts casino opens, the state could lose up to $100 million in lottery, liquor, and rooms and meals taxes if nothing is done in the state.
State Representative Gary Azarian (R-Salem) will propose an expanded gaming bill to lawmakers early next year. Azarian presented the bill last month at a Lions Club meeting and said it was similar to SB 152, but included amendments, which were suggested in the previous session. Azarian is confident his bill will pass, but didn’t guarantee Rockingham would receive the license.
If gaming does pass, Salem is ready. A non-binding referendum in March showed 80 percent of voters supported a casino on the grounds of Rockingham Park. If the park is to obtain a license in the future, residents will have the opportunity to vote on a binding referendum if they still support a casino.
If Rockingham is granted a license, Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas plans to purchase the property and invest nearly $600 million in construction of a casino, hotel, entertainment center and grandstand. Horse racing would be restored to the property.