BOSTON In its heyday, the Wonderland Greyhound Park had as many as 10,000 visitors per day coming to watch dog races. But the rise of lotteries and destination casinos gave gamblers other options, and slowly the audiences dwindled.
A ballot initiative in 2008 made greyhound racing illegal in Massachusetts, and Wonderland lost even more customers as it switched to simulcast racing.
When state lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick were unable to resolve differences over an expanded gambling bill last month, it was the final straw for Wonderland. On Thursday, the racetrack closed its doors, ending 75 years of operations.
Robert Furlong, a member of the state’s Racing Commission and former presiding judge at Wonderland, admitted that the track’s operators had no choice but to shut down, but said Wonderland — and other tracks in the area — still have special meaning for Revere residents like him.
“Definitely a sad day,” Furlong said. “Most of the people in that general area spent much of their recreational dollar at Suffolk. I worked my way through college working at those tracks.”
Furlong said the racetrack thrived early on, despite opening in the midst of the Great Depression. He remembers Wonderland in its prime, with thousands of fans showing up on big race nights.
“When they had the derbies night there, you could just cut the excitement in the atmosphere, in the air, with a knife. It was tremendous,” he said. “We had the lead out boy who would take the dogs to the post in tuxedos and derbies, we had a band out in the infield there — it was quite an atmosphere.”
In particular, Furlong remembers a night on the track several years ago, when he was still working at Wonderland. “There was win-wagering only, and the race was run and the two dogs finished in a dead heat. Everybody collected,” he said. “Everybody won.”
“Except the track, who had to pay everyone,” he added, laughing.
For people like Furlong who have grown up with the track, it’s an emotional goodbye.
“When I was there on the track to see to closing up, to see the shrubberies and everything growing up on the track itself, it was hard,” he said. “It was very difficult to accept.”