The ownership groups of Suffolk Downs
and the Brockton Fairgrounds, which has not hosted Thoroughbred racing since 2001, have filed applications with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for live racing dates in 2016.
The application of Sterling Suffolk Racing, which asked for and was granted three dates—Sept. 5, Oct. 3, and Oct. 31— this year, requested two days of racing next year. There is the expectation, however, that number will be increased to a total of six once plans become more solidified.
The Carney family, owners of the Brockton Fairgrounds and the holder of two separate agricultural licenses, has asked for a total of 30 days of live racing. Under state law, each fair licensee may host a maximum of 15 days of live racing.
Chip Tuttle, chief executive officer of Suffolk Downs, said plans at this stage are to expand the concept of racing festival days, currently on Saturdays spaced four weeks apart, to a two-day format of Saturdays and Sundays on three weekends in 2016. Weekend dates in early July, early August, and the Labor Day weekend in September are under consideration.
The current two-year racing license of Suffolk—as well as that of harness track Plainridge Park Casino and the Brockton Fairgrounds—expires July 31, 2016. But Tuttle said July 31 has always been the termination date in Massachusetts, and that has never in the past prohibited a licensee from applying for dates in the last five months of a given year.
By law, the MGC must vote on the racing license applications by Suffolk and Brockton by Nov. 15. Prior to the vote, hearings for public input will be held in each city where the tracks are located.
The MGC has scheduled a meeting for Nov. 12, when it is anticipated the votes on the Thoroughbred racing applications will take place.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, a group that splintered from the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and registered with the secretary of state in July, submitted a formal letter to the MGC "objecting to any approved race meet in Massachusetts of less than the statutory maximum of live racing days."
When state legislators passed a bill in March that extended the Suffolk Downs racing license and simulcast rights through July 31, 2016, it required the track to hold a minimum of one and a maximum of 50 live racing dates per calendar year.
Suffolk Downs ownership, which originally planned to end live racing altogether in October 2014 as a consequence of its gaming partner failing to win the single Boston-area casino license, is steadfast in its position that live racing is no longer economically feasible at the 80-year-old track, and it has no intention of holding a full meet of 50 days or anywhere close to that number in the future.
Purses for the three days of live racing at Suffolk in 2015, which average about $500,000 per card, are being supplied by the state's new Race Horse Development Fund, which is fueled by a percentage of the license fees and revenue from the state's burgeoning casino industry. Meanwhile, the track continues to move forward with plans to develop the 160-acre property, which is one of the most valuable along the Eastern seaboard.
Also in the MTHA's letter, which was signed by president Bill Lagorio, is the request that the MGC "take steps to recognize our organization as the legal representative of the majority of local horsemen." But it is the position of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the New England HBPA, and Suffolk Downs that by law, the New England HBPA is the only legal representative of the owners and trainers and is the only organization empowered to enter into a contract with the racetrack.
"The MGC staff is currently researching the request of the MTHA," said Dr. Alexandra Lightbown, the commission's interim director of racing.
In related news, slot machine revenue at Plainridge Park Casino, which opened in June and is owned by Penn National Gaming Inc., continued to fall for the third straight month, according to the MGC. Plainridge's daily revenue per machine was $280 in September, down from $390 in July and $330 in August.
The Race Horse Development Fund is earmarked for $6,186,327 from casino revenue to date, with 75% allotted to the Thoroughbred industry and 25% to the Standardbreds. Of the share for each breed, 80% goes to purses, 16% to breeders, and 4% to backstretch welfare.