by Lynne Snierson
Suffolk Downs, which in recent weeks negotiated a new contract with the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association calling for fewer live racing days in 2011, is now seeking the legislative relief that would make that possible.
Under current state law, the Massachusetts track is required to run a minimum of 100 days in order to hold the license and be able to offer full-card simulcasts. The terms of the new deal with horsemen call for 80 days of live racing this year.
While state Sen. Anthony Petruccelli, who represents Suffolk’s district, and state Rep. Carlo Basile have filed a bill that would grant the state racing commission the authority to reduce the number of days as it sees fit, it’s not a bill track management wants to see pass. Suffolk Downs chief executive officer Chip Tuttle said the track is instead pursuing a separate bill that would specifically mandate 80 days of racing.
Petruccelli and the track are not at odds, because according to state law, the senator had to file his bill by the first of the year in order to meet the legislative deadline. The track and the horsemen’s lengthy contract dispute, which had the number of live racing days as a matter of contention, did not begin until the end of January.
“Suffolk Downs has supported every piece of gaming legislation that has been advanced by the governor, the House, and the Senate over the last five years,” Tuttle said. “We remain hopeful that we will be given the opportunity to compete for an expanded gaming license that would allow us to create and preserve jobs, generate revenue for the state, benefit the local economy, and strengthen our racing program for years to come.”
Petruccelli has filed separate legislation that would expand gambling in the Bay State by legalizing three destination resort casinos and only one racetrack casino. There are three pari-mutuel facilities still operating in Massachusetts: Suffolk Downs; Plainridge Race Course, a harness track; and Raynham Park, which no longer conducts live Greyhound racing because it has been outlawed in Massachusetts.
Under Petruccelli’s bill, the existing tracks would be allowed to bid against one another for the sole racetrack gaming license, and outside developers who are willing to construct a gaming facility coupled with a new racetrack could also enter the competition.
Last summer legislation that would have expanded gambling in Massachusetts failed when the Senate president, Speaker of the House, and governor could not agree on the number of resort-style casinos and racetracks with slot machines.