By Craig Dolch
West Palm Beach, Fl. - When Art Laughlin received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Greyhound Track Operators of America (AGTOA) last Monday in Las Vegas, he said he was “surprised and shocked.”
He shouldn’t have been.
Laughlin, who spent 34 years as general manager at Palm Beach Kennel Club, helped build PBKC into one of America’s top greyhound tracks. Under his guidance, Palm Beach went from a four-month racing circuit to a year-round operation that produces the most handle – on the greyhounds as well as simulcasting – as any dog track in the U.S.
So nobody else in the greyhound industry was surprised when Laughlin was honored last Monday to a conference room full of greyhound racing dignitaries.
“I’m still a little shocked,” Laughlin said. “When you look at some of the people who have gotten the award like Ron Sultemeier, George Carney and Eddie Keelan … I certainly don’t feel like I was close with those people. But I really feel honored.”
When Laughlin joined the Palm Beach Kennel Club in 1974 with a degree in Economics from the University of Pittsburgh, the track operated just during the prime, winter tourist season of January-April. After Laughlin took over as GM in 1976, gradually the dates were expanded first to seven months a year and then year-round. PBKC was granted year-round racing in 1987 and in 1991 simulcast wagering was introduced. In 1997, The Poker Room became the latest form of entertainment at the Kennel Club.
With the state of Florida gradually expanding gambling – through simulcasting, approving Sunday racing, allowing children into facilities, the institution of the Lottery, etc. – Laughlin was forced to change the paradigm of the PBKC business.
Eventually, the track went from a night-time business to one that shifted mostly to an afternoon operation to best take advantage of the simulcasting of horse racing and the other pari-mutuels. Laughlin also helped PBKC become the most successful poker-room operations in Florida.
“We had to make a lot of decisions that had major implications on our business,” said Laughlin, now the special assistant to track President Pat Rooney Jr. “I’m proud that we became the No. 1 simulcasting facility with the dogs and with the horses.”
Yet Laughlin was adamant the quality of racing at Palm Beach wouldn’t be affected by the fact some of its customers were betting on horses instead of greyhounds. The track took some money out of its simulcasting revenue and put it into the greyhound purses, even though they weren’t legally obligated to do that. The track continues to stage its Big Three stakes races that pay out $150,000 annually to the best greyhounds.
“One of our goals was to keep quality racing and good dogs,” Laughlin said. “We have done a lot for the kennels. I think over the years we have shown we still have some of the best greyhounds in the country.”
Under Laughlin’s watch, PBKC also became integrally involved with the Palm Beach community through the track’s charity work. Last year, Palm Beach Kennel Club earned the Business of the Year Award by the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches for “its commitment to their business goals, their employees and the community.”
“Pat Rooney Jr. is responsible for a lot of our community work with some great ideas,” Laughlin said. “We have always tried to do the right thing here.”
And so it’s only right that Laughlin be honored for his lifetime of service to the Palm Beach Kennel Club, the greyhound industry and Palm Beach County.