Goodbye Swifty: Once a thriving track with jobs galore, Wonderland fizzles out this week without even the bang of a starting gun

August 25, 2010
By

A simple sign hung on the front door Thursday morning at Wonderland Greyhound Park.

There were no press conferences held or historic photos rolled out.

In fact, the city’s largest employer for decades and its claim to fame for years just sputtered out of existence with only a handful of words.

“Wonderland Park is closed and has ceased all operations. Thank you for 75 great years,” read the sign, which was accompanied by another sign explaining how to redeem winning tickets.

It was a sign that everyone’s been expecting for the last 10 years, but somehow a sign that the track’s ownership has avoided time and time again.

Not this time.

“All I’ve been saying all day is that it’s a very emotional day,” said Wondy CEO Dick Dalton on Thursday afternoon, just after a License Commission meeting in City Hall. “Beyond the history of the track, it’s just dealing face to face with people who have been co-workers of mine for 37 years. That’s a real challenge for me to deal with and will continue to be.”

Some 150 or so workers left at the track said they found out about the closure when they arrived on Thursday. Like everyone else, they discovered the news when they saw the sign on the door.

“I have no idea what I’ll do now,” said Revere resident Paul DeFilippo on Thursday in front of the track. “I’ve been here for 33 years. It’s a good job. This was a great place to work. I guess I’ll collect unemployment and you can add me to the 10 percent unemployment rate we have going now.”

Dalton said that other track workers echoed those sentiments to him.

No one knows just what they will do.

“I talk to many of our workers – they’ve been there for 30 years or more and they’re in their 50s or late 50s; they’re saying, ‘What do I do now at my age?’ A lot of them are maybe 57 years old and they want to know who is going to hire them at their age. They’re very down.”

Dalton added that the state Secretary of Labor brought down a quick response team on Monday and Tuesday to meet with the newly unemployed track workers. That included setting them up with unemployment benefits, new job offerings and job training.

Dalton said the true end of Wonderland was not the recent ban on dog racing or the failure of expanded gaming, but rather the opening of Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut in 1992.

“When I look back and see it was only 1990 when we set a world record for annual pari-mutuel handles and we were having million dollar nights and everything was going unbelievably,” said Dalton. “Then Foxwoods opened and everything changed for us. That’s really when we started our fall. You can even graph it out and see it. It’s very clear.”

Meanwhile, track workers at Wonderland had their own opinions as to who had put them out of work.

Many workers had been slated to transfer to Suffolk Downs had expanded gaming come to fruition.

Late last week, they weren’t blaming Wonderland for their lost jobs.

“This is the fault of the three goons on Beacon Hill,” said DeFilippo and a handful of other workers. “We’re talking about [Gov. Deval] Patrick, [Sen. President Therese] Murray and [House Speaker Bob] DeLeo. They played a game of Russian Roulette with us. We are the people who got hurt on this. They’re going to go out to their fancy restaurants tonight and have not a thing to worry about. These three goons played with our lives and they have been doing so for 10 to 12 years.”

When asked by reporters if they blamed Wonderland for the closure, it was unanimous that the track was not the focus of their ire.

“We’re blaming the politicians,” said DeFilippo. “[Wonderland] is fortunate they kept this place open as long as they did. The money ran out. The politicians put us in this position and money can only last so long.”

State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston) said Wonderland’s closure was a good reason to get the Legislature to come back into session and reconsider expanded gaming.

“It’s a sad day for the generations of families that have worked at Wonderland as Wonderland was a part of the fabric of the City of Revere and a source of employment for people over the years,” he said. “Its suspended operation is further evidence as to how important the issue of expanded gaming is to Massachusetts. That’s why I support coming back into session and revitalizing the discussion around expanded gaming.”

It seems that might be in the works, but each day that transpires without some sort of compromise or announcement seems to be a day further away from anything substantive happening.

Most now agree that there will be no legislation this year.

Mayor Tom Ambrosino said that Wonderland’s closure is a sad situation.

“I’m sad for the employees,” he said. “I can’t say it wasn’t unexpected because it was pretty much inevitable.”

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