Hold all wagers
News today regards developments from over the border in New Hampshire, where Bill Faucher wants to build a harness track. Yes, a harness track with pari-mutuel wagering and slot machines, built in part with money raised from an off-track betting parlor across the road from the now shuttered Hinsdale Race Track.
“You cant believe the people who’ve gotten in touch with me that are all hepped up,” said the 74-year-old Faucher, who pulls a lot of weight in the Granite State. He is a former state legislator, businessman, standardbred owner, driver and trainer. In 1993 he was inducted into the New England Harness Writers Hall of Fame.
The only snafu is that Faucher bought a rotten parcel of property for his OTB parlor, but more on that later. His project began by convincing the state legislature to allow off track betting in Cheshire County, provided it would lead to the return of live harness racing. “We got three years of good grace from the governor,” said Faucher, who owns a sprawling horse farm near the Connecticut River in Hinsdale. “We have three years to build a racetrack. It’ll be a harness track. I promised the governor I would create new jobs. That’s what they want to hear today.”
Faucher presented his plan to the Hinsdale planning board last summer. According to the minutes of the meeting, his betting parlor would offer simulcast wagering from racetracks throughout the country and be open by this spring, in time for the Triple Crown.
Anticipating the town’s approval, Faucher purchased an old fireworks store, gutted it and began refurbishing. “It’s zoned for what they want to do there,” said Hinsdale Planning Board Chair William Nebelski in a telephone interview this week. “I have to be careful with what I say or I’ll lose my vote but it conforms to zoning regulations.”
That’s the good news. The bad news arrived on Dec. 18 when a Keene attorney named Michael Bentley walked into the planning board meeting and tipped the sulky. Bentley informed the committee that he represented Hinsdale Real Estate Development LLC (HRED) that owns the racetrack property. He told the planning board that the racetrack once owned Faucher’s OTB property, and that the deed forbade it to be ever used for gambling purposes.
The news blindsided Faucher who said, “My attorney didn’t read the covenants. The first thing to do is to read the deed. I was shocked. Sad to say he’s been my attorney for 50 years. Now all my intentions are really set back. The town of Hinsdale’s losing tax revenue and we’re losing time.”
Bentley said at the planning board meeting that neither he nor HRED owner Carl Thomas wanted to cause any problems. “We don’t mean to rain on Faucher’s parade. We’re reasonable people… We’re not looking for a fight.”
To which Faucher responded: “He’s full of shit. Why didn’t he pick up the phone and call me? I’m the individual who’s running around with egg on my face. Mike Bentley knows me and he could’ve gotten on the phone and approached me as a gentleman.”
The background to this dilemma began prior to when Hinsdale Greyhound Park filed for bankruptcy in 2008. Owner Joe Sullivan was desperately trying to stay afloat until the state approved slot machines and he convinced Thomas to give him a multi-million dollar loan in exchange for a piece of the action.
When the track went under, in Faucher’s words, “Carl Thomas was left holding the bag. Wal-Mart has all sorts of covenants on that land. I’m sorry he made that investment with Joe Sullivan. I feel bad for him. Shame on the racing commission they should’ve been monitoring this before it happened. So now he’s there with that property and I’m not willing to share with him to pay his expense.”
Meanwhile Attorney Bentley had no comment. The secretary answering the phone at his law office on Tuesday asked what my call regarded. “The OTB parlor in Hinsdale.”
She put me on hold but returned quickly and said, “He’s not available.”
Faucher remains undaunted. He envisions a 5/8ths-mile track that will be built in either Hinsdale or Chesterfield. As for the racetrack property which itself was once a harness track he said, “The whole stable area was sold to Wal-Mart and I don’t believe it leaves us with enough room.”
“If I have to buy another piece of land (for the OTB parlor) I will. I’m not going to piss it all away on lawyers. They’re the only ones that would come out on top in that deal. I’m going to offer them money for the covenant. We’re going to try and handle this in a gentlemanly way. We’ve got something in the works.
“I got burnt once,” he added. “If I have to buy another lot I’m gonna read the deed myself.”
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Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.