December 10, 2008
Union Leader

Rockingham Park officials are ready to begin a concerted effort to bring video lottery machines to the Salem racetrack.

Track officials and officials of a Nevada firm with an option to buy the track say they plan today to announce a “coalition formed with the aim of bringing limited gaming” to the track.

The New Hampshire Union Leader confirmed that the plan for “limited gaming” is for video gaming machines only and not other forms of expanded gambling.

Track officials are expected to make suggestions, but will ultimately leave it up to the state to determine how many machines, if any, should be approved.

Today’s news conference is timed to present video gaming as a serious potential revenue-raiser as lawmakers prepare to return in January with the state facing a $250 million shortfall.

In 2005, Millennium Gaming, which owns two Las Vegas casinos, hired New Hampshire lobbyists Tom Rath and James Demers and media consultant Rich Killion to plan and promote its efforts.

In 2007, Millennium said a study by the Innovation Group of New Orleans showed that 3,000 video slot machines at the Rock would generate $403 million in total revenue. The company at that time proposed the state’s take at 40 percent, or about $160 million.

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, a long-time proponent of video gaming, said his goal “has always been for 3,000 machines at Rockingham and 1,000 at the other locations,” meaning the greyhound racetracks at Hinsdale, Seabrook and Belmont.

D’Allesandro would allow North Country entities to also apply for a gaming license.

He said 6,000 video slot machines at the tracks can generate $250 million to $300 million a year for the state. The figure does not include potential revenue from a North Country site, he said.

If the state legalizes video gaming, Millennium has said it will exercise its option and purchase Rockingham from Rockingham Venture Inc., which purchased the track in 1983 from the New Hampshire Jockey Club — three years after a fire destroyed the grandstand — and reopened it in 1984.

Track officials and Millennium co-owner Bill Wortman said three years ago that they would eventually make a full-fledged effort to convince elected state officials of what they view as the economic benefits of expanded gambling. They said that at that opportune time, Millennium would also purchase newspaper space and broadcast time for advertisements.

Rockingham Park has been trying for years to persuade the state to allow slot machines at the track.

“What we can bring to the equation are facts and figures and many, many years of experience,” Wortman said at the time.

He said Millennium had been involved in legalizing forms of gambling in foreign countries and tried unsuccessfully to do so in Massachusetts.

Track and Millennium officials have also said that if expanded gambling comes to Rockingham, they would overhaul its facilities to create a “world class entertainment complex” that would add jobs and tax revenue for the state.

Track Manager Ed Callahan has said extra revenue from expanded gambling would allow the track to offer purses that will attract top-flight horses.

He has said the track would resume running thoroughbreds, which was abandoned after the 2002 season. Since then, it has been running only harness racing while also simulcasting races from other tracks throughout the country.

Rockingham Park and the state’s three greyhound tracks have been trying unsuccessfully for more than a decade to convince state lawmakers to allow slot machines at the tracks. As casino and slot machine gambling venues spring up throughout the East Coast, including some racetracks, the New Hampshire tracks have been losing money.

Rockingham officials have long predicted that without expanded gambling, the property would eventually be sold for other development.

Gov. John Lynch has long said that he would not consider expanded gambling unless he saw compelling evidence that it would not harm the state’s quality of life.