For nearly seven decades, it was a key attraction and often the largest taxpayer and employer in Raynham. Now, two years after dog racing came to an end at Raynham Park, the future of the track is taking center stage in town.
On Aug. 13, the town is holding a special election to find out whether residents support bringing a slot machine parlor to the 125–acre site on Route 138 (Broadway) near Interstate 495.
George Carney, the park owner, and Greenwood Racing are partnering as Raynham Park LLC to seek the single license for a slot machine parlor that the state is offering through the 2011 casino law. Four other companies are seeking the license.
The project in Raynham cleared its first major local hurdle earlier this summer when the selectmen approved a host agreement with the partnership. The remaining local hurdle is passage of the referendum.
Joseph R. Pacheco, chairman of the selectmen, said his board sees the proposal as a clear plus for the town and is hoping it wins the support of voters.
“We as a town went into negotiations and wanted specific things. Obviously, from a business standpoint, there were some things that they probably needed,” he said. “At the end of the day, we came to an agreement that I’m very proud to have been a part of and I think will be good for Raynham, not just now but going forward.”
Raynham Park operated as a dog track for 69 years until the state ended greyhound racing in 2010 as a result of a 2008 ballot vote. Since then, it has operated as a simulcast facility. Greenwood Racing owns Parx Casino outside Philadelphia.
The $220 million project would proceed in several phases, according to Conor Yunits, a spokesman for Rayham Park LLC. The first calls for converting the existing simulcast facility to the short-term home of the slot machine parlor, and tearing down the existing grandstand.
The second phase involves constructing a 175,000-square-foot building that would house the slot parlor — with up to 1,250 machines — along with an entertainment venue, retail stores, and restaurants. Potential future development would include a hotel and additional restaurants and retail shops.
To mitigate the effects of the project, Raynham Park LLC agreed to pay the town a fee of $1 million per year for three years, rising annually by 2.5 percent thereafter, subject to a cap after the 20th year. The fee would be on top of the projected $2.5 million in property taxes the site would provide the town.
“It’s definitely going to go a long way towards helping us not only address concerns from the project, but concerns that would be there without the project,” Pacheco said of the revenue.
Raynham Park LLC also committed to contributing $100,000 annually to a capital costs enhancement fund, and $15,000 per year to a program to help Route 138 businesses upgrade their facades; and to purchase $5,000 per year in vouchers from local businesses to distribute to its patrons.
At public forums, residents have voiced concerns that the project could cause traffic congestion. But Pacheco said the town’s consultants, and those of the developer, agreed that traffic volume would be at or below what it was when the dog track operated, and that all affected roads would operate at acceptable levels.
He also said Raynham Park LLC agreed to fund a traffic impact study at the junction of Old North Main and Elm streets, as well as other traffic, water, and sewer studies the town’s consultant says are needed, and will pay for any improvements those studies recommend.
The developer held two public information forums on the project on July 23-24. As yet, there are no registered ballot committees for or against the plan. But Yunits, the spokesman for Raynham Park LLC, said, “We are organizing supporters to vote in favor of the ballot question,” though he declined to outline specifics.
At a recent state Gaming Commission hearing on the company’s fitness to hold a slot parlor license, Greenwood Racing’s chairman, Robert Green, was questioned about his relationship and past business deals with Robert Brennan, a onetime stock magnate who in 2001 was sentenced to prison for money laundering and bankruptcy fraud. Green said he considered Brennan a friend but had no business dealings with him for 17 years, the Globe reported.
Selectman Richard Schiavo said he believes the proposal has enough support to pass.
“Obviously, there will be individuals on both sides, but I think at the end of the day it will be approved,” he said.
Duane Wheeler, chairman of the Finance Committee, said his panel has not taken a position but “I am assuming, if we did, we would undoubtedly favor it because our selectmen are so strong for it and it obviously represents a lot of income. It’s also in an area where the dog track was.”
Pacheco said a major selling point of the project for him is the 411 to 500 permanent jobs the town’s consultant has estimated it would create, a figure that does not include temporary employment from construction.
“To me, it’s all about jobs,” he said.
Pacheco said the town did not raise public safety as a major issue in discussions with the developer. He said the casino law gave State Police jurisdiction over future gambling facilities, but that there might be a secondary role for local police. He said if it is needed, the town could tap mitigation money to cover any added policing costs.
The other companies pursuing the slot parlor license are Plainridge Racecourse in nearby Plainville; The Cordish Companies, which want to build in Leominster; Rush Street Gaming, which is looking to build in Millbury; and Penn National Gaming, which has proposed locating a slots parlor in Tewksbury.
But Schiavo said he believes Raynham Park’s location near Interstate 495 and Route 24, and the fact that it can be readied for use relatively quickly, “puts it in the lead as far as the candidates go.” Those factors are also part of why he feels positive about the proposal, Schiavo said.
“We are in a unique position,” he said. “We have a facility in place that was for many years a successful dog track, so the property really lends itself to moving forward with the casino. [While upgrades would be needed,] the overall layout of the property is there waiting for use.”