RAYNHAM — Now, more than ever, it’s great to be George Carney.
The gray-haired, rheumy-eyed, plain-talking dog track owner sat at a conference table on Tuesday contemplating his life, the first 85 years of which have been quite spectacular.
“Some people are lucky, and some people aren’t,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky.”
Upstairs, punters in the track’s near-empty lounges gathered around televisions to watch simulcasts from states where greyhound racing is still legal. But the real action was somewhere else — in the polling booths of Raynham, where residents were voting on whether they wanted a slots parlor at the former track.
“Today is one of the biggest days I can recall in my life,” Carney said. “It’s all on the line.”
For years, Carney has been pushing to turn this place — gutted by competition from Foxwoods and the 2008 vote to outlaw greyhound racing in Massachusetts — into a slots emporium. In the meantime, to keep the park and its workers alive, he has taken on other businesses: Huge piles of debris rose from the parking lot, where a Carney family operation recycles construction materials. Nearby sat a septic treatment facility. In the center of it all was the grandstand, and the grown-over dog track, guarded by two statues of forlorn-looking greyhounds.
If he wins the state’s single license to open a slots parlor, Carney hopes to replace this post-apocalyptic scene with a gleaming entertainment complex: not just slots, but restaurants, a hotel, a bowling alley, maybe even a movie theater.
By the end of Tuesday, Carney had come closer to that dream: A whopping 86 percent of voters said yes.
That came a week after another huge victory, though Carney won’t call it that, lest it seem like gloating. Gary Piontkowski, the man he saw as a chief rival, for the slots license and otherwise, is out of the picture: Investigators at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission discovered evidence that Piontkowski, former president of Plainridge Racecourse, had been taking piles of money from the harness track’s money room. Plainridge is no longer in the running for a slots license. Many were floored at the baldness of the alleged corruption uncovered. Carney wasn’t.
“Nothing that took place over there surprised me,” he said. “I had sized him up.”
It has been a fruitful August. But to be fair, it has long been great to be George Carney.
He left school in ninth grade. He has had his fingers in so many pies since, he struggles to keep them all straight. He owns the Brockton Fair, and a trucking and snow-removal company. At one time or another, he has owned shares in the New England Patriots, the old Herald-American, and The Boston Globe. He is a trustee at New England School of Law, where, unwittingly, he funded a scholarship for Christine Dorchak, who led the charge to ban dog racing. They both think this is hilarious. He is a hands-on guy, approving the bills and watching the budgets, though he needs his son-in-law to help him understand some of the legal documents.
In their allegiance to Carney, the employees who remain at the park are as immovable as those expectant greyhounds on the track. Walk around the place and you encounter worker after worker who has been with him for decades. Leo Cahill started picking up tickets in the parking lot in 1980, when he was 17. “I‘ve done everything here from bake pretzels to run a bulldozer,” he said. For him and others, Tuesday’s vote was not just on slots, but also on whether their work matters.
“George has assured me I’ll always have a job here,” Cahill said, choking up. “But it’s not about me. It’s about my family.”
If the slots license goes to one of the other groups vying for it, Carney will find a way to keep Cahill whole. Carney himself has survived plenty of other setbacks.
“As long as you don’t get sour, you’re all right,” he said.
Carney is full of these aphorisms. He’s like your grandfather, albeit one who would still consider settling a disagreement outside.
“I’m a different kind of cat, anyway,” he said.
They don’t make them like George Carney any more. If I didn’t dislike slot parlors so much, I’d be rooting for him.