Dog track owner is betting that he has the edge for casino

Businessman George Carney is willing to bet his 100-acre Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park that he has his competitors beat hands down in the race to build a casino in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Carney has a grand vision for his park: Slot machines and gaming tables would fill the big building that overlooks the racetrack. Restaurants and shops would dot the landscape. Down the street, on another 100 acres he owns, could be a golf course.

„We have room for everything here,“ he says.

Financing would be local. „I have plenty of people who would be more than willing to invest,“ says Carney. „I have a great track record for making money.“

Anyone can dream about becoming proprietor of the state’s first casino resort, but Carney has reason to think he can make it happen. And if it does, it will come at the cost of neighboring Middleborough, which backs the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s plan for a casino on the 500 acres the tribe recently bought off Route 44 in town.

Carney – a self-made businessman familiar with Beacon Hill’s halls of power as well as the Brockton Fairgrounds, which he owns – has land in the right places.

His dog track lies a short distance from Route 24 and Interstate 495, providing easy access for gambling patrons. He also owns the land behind the park, which state officials are eyeing for a train station on an extended commuter rail line. Commuter rail proximity would give employees and patrons access to the casino without burdening local roads.

Clyde Barrow, a casino specialist at the Center for Policy Analysis at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, says Carney’s racetrack is indeed well positioned.

„You roll right off the highway and into the casino lot,“ Barrow said. Plus, notes Barrow, Raynham is a central location between Boston and Providence.

It is possible for both Middleborough and Raynham to proceed with casino construction. If the Wampanoag casino in Middleborough is built as a sovereign Native American venture, it would leave Carney – or any other developer – free to bid on the commercial casino license that Governor Deval Patrick’s plan designates for the southeastern corner of the state. The Legislature is considering Patrick’s proposal.

But having two casinos in neighboring towns would lead to head-to-head competition that would probably undercut both.

Carney is not deterred. „Even if Middleborough does get its casino started, competition has never bothered the Carneys,“ he said.

Carney’s dog track could well benefit from the kind of boost a casino can provide. Since Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods opened in Connecticut, business has dwindled from 20,000 customers a day to 5,000. Adding casino gambling to dog racing and simulcast harness and horse racing could reverse the decline.

Carney contends that his operation could open far sooner than one in Middleborough. The slots and gaming tables could be up and running within three months of securing the state’s casino license, he says. Meanwhile, the Wampanoag venture will be slowed not only by an IRS investigation into its finances, but by having to develop its wooded site from scratch.

Middleborough Selectman Adam Bond, who helped cut a multimillion-dollar casino deal between his town and the tribe in July, is not backing down in the face of Carney’s bid.

„With the state, the backers and the town all working on it, we can take care of the traffic needs of the casino and the surrounding area,“ Bond said.

As for the IRS probe, „I think if the tribe reacts responsibly to the results of the investigation, they will demonstrate for the Bureau of Indian Affairs they are capable of governing themselves,“ he said, and no delay will result.

An application to put the Middleborough site in federal trust for use as a casino is pending before the bureau.

„The governor has set 2012 for the opening of the commercial casinos, but with all the bureaucratic stuff that has to be put together, 2012 may be optimistic,“ Bond said. „The tribe may be off and running long before the Commonwealth ever gets set.“

Raynham Selectman John Donahue predicts Carney will have an uphill battle getting residents‘ support. „Raynham will have to take a serious look at the scope of his plan since it is something that would forever end Raynham as a small town,“ Donahue said.

Carney, 79, has influence, and a long history, in Raynham. His father opened the dog track in 1942. Carney took it over in 1966. Carney did things his own way right from the start, dropping out of school after the ninth grade and striking out on his own at 16 years old. By 28, he was in charge of the annual Brockton Fair.

„I took it over and made it one of the most successful fairs in the country,“ Carney said.

While he no longer runs the fair, Carney owns the expansive Brockton Fairgrounds. He also owns a trucking company that operates out of the greyhound park property.

Lakeville Selectwoman Nancy Yeatts, who chairs the Regional Committee on Casino Impacts, comprising 17 towns, said Carney’s proposal will be discussed when the regional panel meets tonight at 7 in the Lakeville Library.