After being closed for almost seven weeks, the Kennel Club resumed racing last Friday with a skeleton staff and betting available only on wagering websites

Palm Beach Kennel Club has quietly resumed live racing without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic.


After being closed for almost seven weeks, the Kennel Club resumed racing last Friday with a skeleton staff and betting available only on wagering websites. The poker room remains closed and there is no simulcasting.


The dog track closed March 14, postponing the $50,000 Arthur J. Rooney Sr. St. Patrick’s Invitational, due to COVID-19 concerns.


"With Palm Beach County reopening golf courses and boat ramps on May 1, we asked the Division (of Pari-Mutuel Wagering) if we could do this, and they said OK," PBKC president Pat Rooney Jr. said Wednesday. "It’s a little strange watching a race by yourself, but at least we’re able to make up for some of the time we missed."


The track will run 15-race matinees daily at 1 p.m. (it’s usually closed on Tuesdays). With Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing closing last Sunday, PBKC is the only dog track operating in the state, though Derby Lane in St. Petersburg is expected to reopen this weekend.


Almost $300,000 was bet on Tuesday’s card at PBKC, which is more than average at this time of the year. The handle was about $250,000 when PBKC reopened Friday and has steadily increased after Naples’ closure.


"We’re not doing bad," Rooney said. "It’s good for the dogs because they want to run. The trainers try to exercise them at the compound, but it’s obviously not the same."


There was a sense of urgency for PBKC to reopen – all the state’s dog tracks must stop live racing by Dec. 31 because of a voter amendment passed in 2018.


Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach has continued to race thoroughbreds during the pandemic, also without spectators.


Rooney said he’s hopeful when Palm Beach County gets to Phase 1 of the economy returning, the track can open the Paddock restaurant and operate at 25 percent capacity.


"That’s about the number of people we get in the Paddock, anyway," Rooney said.


When Palm Beach County reaches Phase 2, Rooney is optimistic the track can add one or two nightly performances with spectators returning. He said the track will have a seven-person "clean crew" to concentrate on sanitation and have a station where customers can use hand sanitizers and have their temperature checked.


He’s not as hopeful, however, for a quick return of the poker room. With social distancing of 6 feet, it’s difficult to have enough people sitting at a poker table to make the game legitimate.


"The Poker Room will be trickier because everyone is usually sitting close at a table," Rooney said. "We are trying to get some guidance on that. We have reached out to some of our regular players to see what kind of games they would want to play."


PBKC continued to pay its full-time employees during the break and gave dog trainers and operators a weekly stipend. Rooney said the $50,000 purse of the Rooney Invitational was split among the kennels who had dogs in the race.


"I’m hoping we can still run the Arthur J. Rooney Stakes later this year with the dogs that qualified for it if that’s possible," Rooney said. "We also hope to run a couple more stakes races near the end of the year."


PBKC has been open since 1932, with Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr. buying it in 1970.


Pat Rooney said before the pandemic hit that he wanted this year to be a celebration instead of a sad time because of the end of live racing. COVID-19 has made that sentiment more challenging.


"It was disheartening when we had to close, but reopening the track brings a sense of pride because it’s not over," he said. "Hopefully, we can finish strong with our customers back for the last four or five months."