With Rockingham Park Set to Close, Nonprofits Brace for Loss in Gaming Revenue

Aug 29, 2016

Dick O'Shaughnessy, executive director of Greater Salem Caregivers. Half of the nonprofit's budget came from poker games held at Rockingham Park.
Credit Michael Brindley

This week marks the end of an era in Salem.

After opening its doors 110 years ago, Rockingham Park closes Wednesday.

Live horse racing ended at the iconic track in 2010, and the park was considered a potential site for New Hampshire’s first casino.

But owners put the track of up for sale after lawmakers killed yet another proposal for expanded gambling this past session. A deal to sell the land to a local developer was announced in May.

One impact of the park’s closure will be the loss in revenue to local nonprofits. Gaming at The Rock, as it’s called, raised more than $2 million for 35 local charities last year.

Dick O’Shaughnessy is executive director of Greater Salem Caregivers, a nonprofit that relies on that money to make ends meet.

NHPR’s Morning Edition spoke with O’Shaughnessy about what his organization is doing now that the park is closing.

What does your organization do?

Greater Salem Caregivers has been in existence since 1989. It was founded by a group of church people here in Salem. Their mission was to provide transportation to elder citizens, disabled citizens to doctor’s appointments. It has expanded to grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions. And we’ve expanded our horizons to go to Boston or up to Manchester. Things have gotten complicated over the years. People have more intense illnesses. They need dialysis. They need chemotherapy. It’s become quite an operation.

How many clients do you serve?

Between the towns of Pelham and Salem, close to 200 people.

What’s the organization’s budget?

It’s about $100,000 a year.

And how much of that has come from Rockingham Park?

One half the budget: $50,000. We’ve been at The Rock for 10 years. It comes under the state of New Hampshire’s laws under the lottery commission. Each nonprofit is allowed under the law to have 10 days of Texas Hold ‘Em poker or gambling in New Hampshire. We were blessed to have 10 days at Rockingham Park, along with 35 other charities.

So with Rockingham Park closing down this week, this is a major impact on your charity and others, too.

Greater Salem Caregivers provides transportation to about 200 elderly and disabled people in Salem and Pelham.
Credit Michael Brindley

Yes. It will affect the Salem Boys and Girls Club, for example. It extends down to the various civic clubs. The band at the high school, the scholarship fund at the high school, various veterans organizations will be hurt by this. So it’s a downward drag on many of the activities, the sports activities, the youth clubs, special needs clubs. These various agencies are going to be profoundly affected. It kind of came all of a sudden. We knew it was coming, but now we’re dealing with that shock. Everybody is in the same boat as us.

Does your organization have a contingency plan in terms of ways to make up this shortfall?

Our boars has been meeting and we have to start looking at other ways to raise income. That’s difficult to do, especially with so many nonprofits trying to do the same thing. If that’s not feasible, you have to then look at ways to cut costs. Unfortunately, that can mean cutting services, also. Right now, there is some talk in the town of other groups starting poker rooms in Salem. So that’s just on the ground floor right now, and hopefully that will get off the ground and we’ll be able to develop some income from that.

But presumably, that approval process is going to take some time, so what are your plans for the mean time?

As far as we’re concerned, we played it tight to the belt over the years and we were able to put some money aside. And we’ll be able to hopefully continue helping people with the money we’ve saved over the years.

Rockingham Park has been fixture in this community for more than a century. Can you talk about what it means for the town and the area to lose it?

I’ve been in town now close to 45 years. When I first came to Salem, the track was just a beautiful place to go. When I had friends coming in from out of town, on Friday nights, that’s where you went, you went to the track. It’s a place you’d get dressed up for. You’d go for dinner and you’d play the horses. It was fun playing a few dollars on a few bets. It was a place just filled with community spirit. People worked over there. Teachers got summer jobs over there. My son worked there as a waiter. I just want to say I’ve appreciated what Rockingham race track – and I’m almost sentimental in this – has done for the town and the contribution it’s made.