The Last Resort: The Wonder in Wonderland

 
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The Wonder in Wonderland

Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, MA, April 2010 (Photos by Phillip Martin)
by Phillip Martin, 89.7 WGBH
Thursday, April 15, 2010
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[6 min 28 sec]
The twenty-minute ride from downtown Boston to the end of the Blue Line is punctuated by a familiar announcement, “Next stop, Wonderland.” For decades this was the prelude, for many, for a night of betting on fast dogs in fast company at Wonderland Greyhound Park.

On this day about twenty middle-aged men stare at multiple television sets simulcasting dog races from around the country. Former employee David Olson stops in to say hi to old friends. He was also among 300 people who lost jobs here when the racing ban took effect.

But miles from here, beneath the golden dome of the State House, Representative Kathy Reinstein of Revere has been listening. She supports a bill to install up to 750 slot machines at the state’s four racetracks, and her connection to Wonderland is personal.

But will slot machines actually produce the jobs that Reinstein and others claim? One group, United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts is doubtful, and point to a Boston Globe study showing that slot revenue at casinos in Conneticut, for example, were down by 6 percent over the past year.

That’s House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who’s district houses tracks at Wonderland and Suffolk Downs. He’s leading the charge for slots, and says that 100 percent of revenue would be used to assist local communities.

But Governor Deval Patrick isn’t buying it. He’s focused singularly on casinos, and argues that slots will generate only a fraction of the 15,000 jobs that are promised if gaming legislation passes. Sean O’Brien couldn’t disagree more. O’Brien is president of Boston Teamsters Local 25, which represented 65 dogwalkers at Wonderland.

So if the legislation passes will the public show up? Jimmy—a self-described 3 times a week gambler is waiting for a bus at this shopping mall in Revere: Destination —Mohegan Sun, a two hour drive away. Jimmy spends a lot of time at Mohegan, and when asked if he would change his habits and play the one-armed bandits at Wonderland down the road, he is non-committal.

“I jump all over the place. I don’t go to just one place. I’m retired. Ya know what I mean. I mean, I’m used to Mohegan, the buffet, the eatin’, and all that. I’m just trying to say, and then, if I go with a woman, she might want to go to Foxwood, we go to Foxwood. She might have a coupon for Foxwood.”

Joan, from Revere, is also waiting for the Mohegan bus, and like Jimmy, volunteers her first name only: But that cliché “if you build it they will come” resonates with her. “I would be inclined to go to Wonderland because its closer and, if we lose, we can come home earlier.”

Back at Wonderland, cobwebs hang low over an entrance to the oval dog track, which-- once manicured and smooth -- is now lumpy and uneven. Manager Joel Lorjudigee says he envisions this place the way it used to be. But instead of greyhounds racing, people will be pulling the levers of slot machines, and in his mind, the “Ka-ching-- Ka -hing” will translate as job security.

If slotting legislation passes simulcasting at the tracks would be extended until July 2014. If it fails, July of this year will indeed be the last stop...for Wonderland.