by Lynne Snierson
After months of wrangling over minor details in the contract for the 2012 live meet that begins June 2, Suffolk Downs and the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association have reached an agreement.
According to a source close to the negotiations, the deal calls for the Massachusetts racetrack to maintain a minimum of $8.25 million in purses over 80 days of live racing. The daily overnight purse distribution of $103,125 would be the same that was paid last year.
Suffolk Downs chief executive officer Chip Tuttle and the horsemen’s chief negotiator were unavailable for comment the evening of May 8.
The source, meanwhile, said the track’s import simulcast handle is up 15% in the first four months of 2012 compared with the same period last year. The increase can be attributed to the contentious and protracted contract negotiations in 2011, when the New England HBPA withdrew its permission for the New York Racing Association to simulcast its races at Suffolk, and subsequently, horsemen in other jurisdictions pulled their signals in support.
The source confirmed that if simulcast handle continues its upward trend, there is the possibility purses could surpass $8.25 million this year.
Opening day, a Saturday, will be followed by a pair of three-day race weeks (Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday) before Tuesdays are added to create a four-day-a-week schedule that runs through Breeders’ Cup weekend.
In related news, the chief competitor to Suffolk’s bid to win the sole license for a destination resort casino in the Greater Boston region suspended its campaign May 8. The action by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and major Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn followed elections May 7 for the board of selectmen in Foxboro, which is located south of Boston.
Kraft and Wynn had sought to build a destination resort casino on land that Kraft owns across the street from Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play. Strong sentiment in Foxboro led to the overwhelming vote to elect two more anti-casino members to the board. The Kraft Group and Wynn issued companion statements that said voters had spoken and were heard.
With the Wynn-Kraft venture suspended, a competitor to Suffolk that was well-financed and had significant political clout in the state capital is out of the picture. Because the Boston-area casino is expected to be extremely successful, it is anticipated that other major players in the gambling industry will seek the license.
Suffolk Downs has partnered with Caesars Entertainment to develop a world-class casino on the racetrack grounds should it be awarded the license. Two additional destination resort casinos are designated for two other regions of the state, and one standalone slot machine parlor can be built anywhere in Massachusetts.