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Tuesday, December 16

HINSDALE, N.H. -- Officials at Hinsdale Greyhound Park announced Monday they have ceased business operations and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. They cited a struggling economy and lack of interest nationwide in wagering on thoroughbred and greyhound racing as the principal reasons.

Recently, greyhound racing was cut back to just 50 days because of falling attendance. The track mainly operated as an off-track betting parlor for racing and also offered poker games.

The gaming industry is in a bad place for the moment, and each day opening the doors meant losing more money, said John M. Sullivan, attorney at PretiFlaherty in Concord and bankruptcy counsel to the park. "We just don't have the significant activity to be profitable," he said.

Statistics from the state's pari-mutuel commission indicate the total handle numbers for the first and second quarters of 2008 were down more than $8.1 million as compared to the same period last year.

The overall track revenue at Hinsdale has decreased more than $1.5 million from 2007.

During the past several months, the park has attempted to find potential investors or buyers, but concluded the prospects were limited in a weak economy.

Since filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a move usually leading to the liquidation of a company, the park expects to hand over the assets to a trustee in order to manage and review the claims.

According to Paul M. Kelley, director at the New Hampshire Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, the park made the business decision Monday afternoon to surrender its pari-mutuel license to state regulators.

The closing of the Hinsdale facility means a hit in the state and town revenue stream of about $200,000 for the rest of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009.

The racing commission collects the revenue from the different gaming operations around New Hampshire, Kelley said.

With the Hinsdale facility ceasing operations, New Hampshire has two remaining greyhound parks located in Belmont and Seabrook.

Casinos from Las Vegas and Atlantic City to the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut have seen a significant decline in gambling revenues this year. Wagering on thoroughbred and greyhound racing has also seen a steep decline, due to the economy.

"Unfortunately, our operating results have, for some time, reflected what's happening in the economy and in the gaming business nationally," said Joseph E. Sullivan, the president and CEO of the park, in a statement.

Joseph E. Sullivan is no relation to the legal counsel for the park.

"Business was not good, but when gas prices spiked earlier this year, things went from bad to worse. People simply have less money to wager in New Hampshire and nationally," said Joseph Sullivan.

Longtime customers were shocked to find the park closed Monday morning.

One Bellows Falls resident, a 30-year patron of the raceway, said he stopped by because he won a significant pool of money and was refused payment until "after the dust settles."

Additionally, the bankruptcy leaves 19 full-time and 30 part-time employees scrambling to find jobs less than two weeks before Christmas.

Several park employees, speaking to the Reformer anonymously, said they were told Monday around noon that they would no longer be needed and their check was in the mail. Other employees say they were not informed via phone, and showed up for their normal shift to find the doors locked and a sign declaring the park filed for bankruptcy.

John Sullivan said arrangements have been made for all employees to be paid in full for their services through Monday.

The park's closing will also hit the town financially because Hinsdale receives a weekly check for $2,200 from the business which goes into the general fund to offset the revenues, according to Town Administrator Jill Collins.

"So you figure that's about $110,000 a year that we're not going to be getting," she said.

Gaming officials say the facility opened in 1958 as a seasonal harness track before greyhound racing was added in 1973. The park is a part of the town's history and has been a very good employer to generations of residents, in particular teenagers looking for a part-time job, said Collins.

"We don't like to see any employer close their doors because that puts people out of work," she added.

While new career opportunities may be difficult to find for outgoing park employees, the greyhounds have all relocated to several nonprofit groups, including Fast Friends based in West Swanzey.

Park officials had transferred control and care of all the greyhounds at the end of the racing season in October.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.

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