12/18/2008 12:00AM

Hinsdale customers low on priority list


Customers of the rebate shop operated by bankrupt Hinsdale Park in New Hampshire should expect to get 20 to 30 cents of each dollar held in their accounts at the close of the track's liquidation process late next year, the attorney representing the greyhound track in its bankruptcy proceedings said on Thursday.

John Sullivan, a lawyer with Preti Flaherty in Concord, N.H., said the 20- to 30-percent estimate was based on the track's obligation to pay its tax-based debts first and the low standing of bettors when determining priority for paying off unsecured creditors. Hinsdale owes the Internal Revenue Service $189,257, the Town of Hinsdale $138,401, and the New Hampshire Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission $4,500. All of those debts, Sullivan said, are expected to be paid off at 100 percent before unsecured creditors such as account-wagering customers are paid off.

Hinsdale abruptly filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Monday. At the time, customers of the track's account-wagering operation held approximately $500,000 in their accounts, including one bettor who had a balance of $138,000.

Sullivan said that the track had a total of $1.8 million in liabilities, with approximately $1 million in assets. Subtracting out the $332,000 owed on its tax-based debt, that would leave approximately $668,000 left to pay off unsecured creditors who hold $1.5 million in debt.

Many of the unsecured creditors, which include a dozen racetracks, racing-services providers, and Daily Racing Form, are expected to get higher priority than account-wagering customers, Sullivan said. In addition, under Chapter 7 bankruptcy law, deposits by individuals are allowed to get priority when the deposits are used for "family or household services," a category that would appear to exclude gambling. The amount of a deposit that can be designated for priority is capped at $2,500.

"Because they are gambling accounts, I don't think they will qualify," Sullivan said.

Gamblers who held accounts at Hinsdale have expressed shock that the deposits were at risk of a bankruptcy filing. Although many states have regulations requiring account-wagering deposits to be secured with cash bonds, New Hampshire has no such rules on its books.

Andrew Beyer, the popular handicapping expert, book author, and columnist, had $20,441 in his Hinsdale account at the time of the bankruptcy. Beyer, who frequently has columns published in Daily Racing Form, said on Thursday that he had never considered that the account could be wiped out by a bankruptcy filing. He also said that he had no inclination that the track was at risk for bankruptcy.

"When you give someone your cash, and they are supposedly holding it for you, it would seem to me to represent a stronger claim than someone like an electric company that hasn't been paid for months," Beyer said. "As if this game wasn't tough enough."

Sullivan said that the track made no effort to communicate to bettors that the accounts were at risk in order to prevent some account-holders from benefiting from inside information by withdrawing their money prior to the filing.

"It wouldn't be fair to let two or three of the big gamblers come in and empty the till," Sullivan said. "At least doing it this way everyone will be treated on an equal basis."