By Lynne Snierson
In a move needed to get the final version of an expanded gambling bill to the desk of the governor before its winter break, the Massachusetts legislature approved a bill that cuts revenue to horse racing.
Horsemen and breeders will still receive 9% of the revenue from a slot machine facility, 5% of the projected $280 million licensing fees for the slots facility and three destination resort casinos to be developed, and 2.5% of the state's 25% share of gross gaming revenue from the three casinos.
Earlier in the week of Nov. 13, the House and Senate Conference Committee reached consensus behind closed doors that the horse racing industry would receive 5% of the state's 25% share in gross gaming revenue from the full-scale casinos. That caused a last-minute stall when opponents objected because it took local aid from cities and towns across the state.
The percentages in the bill now being sent to Gov. Deval Patrick for his signature still give the horse racing industry an estimated $17.5 million per year, though it would have received an additional $15 million in the previous version of the legislation.
“I am pleased with the way this came out, especially considering where we were one month ago,” said Frank Frisoli, attorney for the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “I was really happy before they cut (the share for the horsemen), but I am still happy that the leadership (in the House and Senate) was able to keep intact something that benefits the industry.”
The bill also calls for more live racing days in Massachusetts. Earlier this year, the legislature reduced the required minimum number of days from 100 to 80, but now tracks must race 105 days in the first calendar year of operation with gaming, 115 days the following year, and 125 the year after that.
“That will be subject to review by the gaming commission, but it does provide some protection for the Thoroughbred industry and the breeding industry,” Frisoli said.
Patrick is expected to sign the bill within days. Under its terms, all three of the destination resort casinos and sole slots facility are subject to openly competitive bids, with no guarantees for racetracks. Still, Suffolk Downs is the odds-on favorite to win the full resort casino license designated for the Boston area.
“We look forward to the next phase of this process and, should this bill became law, to competing for one of these licenses to develop a world-class resort with horse racing as a keystone to that development,” Suffolk Downs chief executive officer Chip Tuttle said.
It is estimated the licensing process will take up to one year, and then it will be another year before the slots facility is operational and at least two more years before the destination resort casinos open their doors.