By Lynne Snierson
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission took steps Jan. 30 to ensure the highest standards in both integrity and safety as the state's horse racing industry prepares to coexist with planned casinos in the near future.
In its weekly open meeting, the commission voted to approve the initiation of the administrative rule-making process to pursue the adoption of national best practices and operational standards regarding health and medication procedures. In a release, the MGC's Division of Racing said it is aggressively pursuing new protocols, procedures, and standards to ensure the utmost integrity and efficiency for horse racing in Massachusetts.
The move, seen as a way to make live racing and breeding stronger in Massachusetts, was welcomed by Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer for Suffolk Downs.
"It is very encouraging to see Massachusetts taking a leadership position in this area," he said. "These measures will enhance Suffolk Downs' longstanding commitment to the health and safety of our equine athletes and the integrity of our competition."
Suffolk Downs and partner Caesar's Entertainment has filed a phase 1 formal application with the commission to develop a $1 billion destination resort casino on the property of the 77-year-old racetrack.
Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, who proposed a separate $1 billion casino project in a nearby community, and developer David Nunes are competing with Suffolk for the sole license designated for the Boston area.
The Cordish Companies and Rush Street Gaming also filed formal applications and paid the non-refundable $400,000 fee, but neither has designated which of the state's three separate geographical regions will be the site for its project. Moreover, neither has declared whether it will seek a full casino license or the lone stand-alone slots parlor license available. Either company or both could join the competition against Suffolk Downs.
The slots license is expected to be awarded before the end of 2013 and up to three casino licenses should be granted by the end of February 2014. Expanded gaming legislation, which was passed in 2011, mandates that purses for live racing will be supplemented by revenues generated from the slots parlor and the casinos.
The commission's proposed rule changes will adopt nationally-recognized standards presented by the Model Rules of the Racing Commissioners International (RCI Model Rules) as they pertain to equine veterinary practices, health and medication, and submissions from stakeholders, according to the release.
The proposed new rules call for uniformity by aligning Massachusetts medication rules with the RCI Model Rules used in most other racing jurisdictions.
They include the repeal of the current regulation which permits the use of phenylbutazone on race day; providing a split sample provision to afford owners and trainers additional due process protection in the event of an alleged medication violation; the prevention of the transfer of horses in a suspended trainer's care to his or her spouse during the period of suspension; and clear withdrawal times for accepted therapeutic medications to veterinary practitioners and trainers in the form of treatment restriction windows.
MGC's director of racing Jennifer Durenberger, said, "Taking these important and proactive measures to strengthen our standards and promote uniformity will reassure the pari-mutuel customer that Massachusetts is serious about protecting the integrity of its racing and the welfare of its participants. We look forward to moving this process forward as we approach the 2013 racing season."
Suffolk Downs has not announced its 2013 live dates or schedule, but it is expected that the meet will run from early June through early November.