By Lynne Snierson
Suffolk Downs, which ended live racing for good earlier in the fall and formally laid off the majority of the track's remaining employees Nov. 20, is now investigating ways to remain open as a simulcasting-only facility next year.
"We'd only be looking at the simulcast option for 2015-16. The owners are planning to develop the property and this would preserve 100 jobs during the planning and permitting process," said Chip Tuttle, the track's chief operating officer.
Tuttle said that bidding farewell to longtime employees has made for an extremely difficult week. "We're interested in keeping as many people working as possible," he said of the simulcast option
Suffolk closed the curtain on live racing Oct. 4 in the wake of gaming partner Mohegan Sun being passed over for the single Boston-area casino license on Sept. 16. It retains simulcasting rights through Dec. 31 by state law. Tuttle said that current plans call for those operations to cease Dec. 20, and it would take the remaining 11 days in the month to shut down the physical plant entirely.
But the track holds the license for the shuttered Wonderland Greyhound Park, which it purchased after Massachusetts outlawed dog racing several years ago. Suffolk Downs has been operating the simulcasting of greyhound racing at the track under that license since acquiring it.
There is additional precedent in Massachusetts to simulcast Thoroughbred racing in the absence of hosting a live meet. Raynham Park, which also once operated as a greyhound track, remains open for simulcasts of dog and horse racing.
Meanwhile, officials of the New England affiliate of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association continue to negotiate with Suffolk's management in hopes of striking an economically feasible deal to lease the track and operate a live meet next year. Should an agreement be reached, Tuttle said that Suffolk's proposed extension of simulcasting would not preclude the horsemen from conducting a meet.
The horsemen filed a "placeholder" application with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission by the Oct. 1 deadline for a one-day meet, which was granted with the contingency that a supplemental application for 65 days of live racing, the minimum required by state statute, be submitted. An official with the NEHBPA, which held a joint informational board meeting with the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association at the track Nov. 21, said that the horsemen intend to file the secondary application in the next few days.
If that application is granted by the MGC, the horsemen must then return with a detailed plan for running the meet in 2015. Those plans, which have to address the astronomical operating expenses for the almost 80-year-old racetrack, are far from being decided although multiple options are being explored.
"We continue to talk with the horsemen on a regular basis and as amicable as those discussions have been, we have not reached an agreement whereby they would be able to lease the facility or operate a meet here," said Tuttle.
The Carney family, the owners of Raynham Park and the Brockton Fairgrounds, have also filed one-day placeholder applications with the MGC for two fair meets under the aegis of the Brockton Agricultural Society and the Middleborough Agricultural Society. The fairgrounds, which last offered live Thoroughbred racing in 2001, could run a 30-day meet under each license by state law.
But sources said that those plans would be scrapped if there is a 2015 live meet at Suffolk Downs, which can offer the horsemen a one-mile oval, turf course, and full stable area.