Closing of Rockingham Park Hits New Hampshire Nonprofits

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Rockingham Park, Salem, N. H. / Boston Public Library

August 29, 2016; New Hampshire Public Radio

Rockingham Park opened 110 years ago as a horseracing venue. After live horseracing there ended in 2010, the facility hosted poker tournaments operated by 35 charities a year. Last year, Rockingham-hosted events provided $2 million in charitable revenue. However, the Rock closes today, unsuccessful in its long-term strategy transition from horseracing to become New Hampshire’s first casino.

The local charities that benefitted from Rockingham Park as a poker tournament venue knew this was coming, and at least some of them have saved a little money to cushion the blow to their revenue stream. It’s hard for a nonprofit to replace a dependable fundraiser, especially when that activity accounts for up to half its annual revenue, as is the case with Greater Salem Caregivers. The local nonprofit provides transportation services and errands for senior citizens in the Salem area. Many of the other affected charities are very small and very local, including civic clubs, the high school band and high school scholarship fund, youth clubs, and “special needs clubs,” according to the article.

Many of the organizations that took their turn offering charitable gaming up to 10 days a year at the Rock will now look at other fundraisers, which will likely put them in competition with each other. Some are looking at hosting poker events in other local venues, but there is concern that it just won’t be the same—be as successful—as when the events were held at the Rock. The future of support for nonprofit service in the Salem area is uncertain, and there is speculation about the need for program cuts to adapt to reduced income.

Rockingham Park provided more than a venue for charitable fundraising. It provided the framework for organic grassroots collaboration among local groups that brought both order and success to event-based fundraising in the local area. The equilibrium has been reset and the future success is in doubt. We can’t help but wonder how many other communities benefit from externally provided opportunities like Rockingham Park and how their nonprofit beneficiaries plan for potential changes over time.—Michael Wyland