Horse Racing Seeks Shelter Under Massachusetts Gaming Commission Umbrella

Posted on November 3, 2017

[toc]Massachusetts is exploring ways to revive one of its declining industries: Horse racing.

At a recent hearing, Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby explained how a bill, S 175,  introduced by Joseph Boncore could help.

Horseracing could use a kick

To say thoroughbred racing has been on the decline in Massachusetts is an understatement.

According to reporting by State House News Service:

  • In 2001 Massachusetts hosted 1,526 races over 179 racing days.
  • In 2015, Massachusetts hosted 36 races across three racing days.

The state attempted to address its declining horse racing industry when it legalized casinos back in 2011. The law earmarks 18 percent of the gaming revenue paid to the state for the Race Horse Development Fund.

Those funds are used to boost purses and compensate different players in the racing industry.

Even though just one of the state’s casinos is open for business, the money is already making a difference. That is, for standard-bred racing. Last year, the RHDF received $15 million from Plainridge Park. Ironically, the money in the fund largely boosts racing at Plainridge Park.

Local reports from the summer stated:

“Plainridge Park Casino is running 125 racing days, up from 80; purses have increased from $2.6 million in 2014 to $7.4 million in 2017, the live racing handle has more than doubled to $7.6 million to $18 million, and annual registered yearlings (one-year-old standardbred horses) have increased from 36 to 51.”

Unfortunately, this revival hasn’t trickled down to thoroughbred racing. In 2016, Massachusetts hosted just 63 thoroughbred races on six racing days This is a considerable improvement over the 2015 numbers, but nowhere near the industry’s 2001 numbers.

Crosby testifies in front of Joint Committee

Chairman Crosby testified in front of the joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies this week. There he made the case for S 175, which would give the MGC broader powers over the racing industry and the usage of the Horse Racing Development Fund. He explained his rationale, pegging the fund’s balance at somewhere between $13 million and $17 million.

“Many people in the industry have come to us to ask us to use that money for other things. We don’t have the authority to do that and we believe it would be very helpful if we had the authority to react to proposals from the industry on other ways to use this money.”

“Particularly with respect to Thoroughbred racing, if we don’t get the tools to bring all the parties together and use the levels of muscle, which are the revenue streams … then I’m afraid we’ll be stuck where we’ve been for the last umpteen years, which is an internal war in the industry and not being able to come together with a comprehensive strategy.”

Another idea also discussed involves Suffolk Downs

The Committee also listened to testimony from the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NEHBPA).

The NEHBPA spoke in support of S 175, as well as a second bill, S 185. S 185 would commission a study on the feasibility of a year-round track in Central Massachusetts.

According to State House News Service:

“The NEHBPA has signed a right of first refusal for about 400 acres of land in Warren and a Warren selectman on Tuesday told the committee that the facility would give the rural town “a real shot in the arm.” The NEHBPA is also in discussions with officials in Spencer about locating the horse park there.”

Also during the hearing, the NEHBPA announced it partnered on the project with Sterling Suffolk Racecourse. That is the group that currently runs Suffolk Downs.

Suffolk Downs is now a simulcasting facility after it failed to secure one of the state’s casino licenses in 2013. The previous owners sold the track in March. Since then, it has been linked to everything from apartments to Amazon’s second headquarters.

The two groups think they can revive live racing in Massachusetts. That is, provided Boncore’s bill and S 185 are adopted in tandem with a long-term extension of the track’s simulcasting license.

“We’ve looked at several options and believe that this is the best path forward to preserve our jobs, our businesses and the thousands of acres of open working space associated with horse racing in the Commonwealth,” NEHBPA President Anthony Spadea said in a statement. “We and the Mass Breeders are excited to offer our full support to and to work exclusively with Sterling Suffolk, our partner since 1992, on this initiative.”

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a veteran of the poker media, contributing to offline and online publications centered on the regulated US online gambling industry. These include OnlinePokerReport.com, PlayNJ.com, USPoker.com as well as USA Today. Steve is based in Massachusetts and is also a poker player.

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