Suffolk Downs Slashes Purses by 26%

Action will result in a 13% overall reduction in purses for 100-day meet.

Management at Suffolk Downs announced Aug. 16 the track will reduce average daily purse distribution by 26% for the second half of its 2010 racing season to achieve a 13% reduction in purses for the meet.

According to a release from the East Boston, Mass., track, the action would bring purse distribution in line with statutory minimums. The release noted that for each of the last three years, track ownership "has paid purses well above the minimum required by Massachusetts’ law as part of its commitment to live racing."

Suffolk Downs paid $10.9 million in purses in 2006 and new ownership increased purses to $12.1 million in 2007 and $11.9 million in 2008, according to the announcement. A reduction last year brought 2009 purses down to $9.8 million, the track reported.

The purse cuts come a week after the state legislature and Gov. David Patrick reported they were at an impasse on a proposed slots bill. According to published reports, the inability to reach agreement on the gambling bill means that tracks would have no hope of alternative gambling at least until the formal legislative session resumes in January 2011.

The purse reduction will reduce the daily purse level for the last 50 days of the 100-day live racing meet from the current average of $89,000 per day to an average of $66,000 per day, saving the track over $1 million for the remainder of the season, according to the release. The track said it also expects to generate approximately $8 million in purses this season based on contributions to purses from handle mandated by Massachusetts’ statute.

"Ownership has invested several million dollars over the last few years in an effort to support local horsemen and enhance our racing product," Suffolk Downs chairman Bill Mulrow said in a statement. "As economic and business conditions worsen, we are faced with difficult decisions as we strive to preserve our current workforce. We understand that this reduction will cause difficulty for the horsemen and horsewomen who have supported our racing program and we appreciate their perseverance."

"This reduction will have a significant negative impact on our more than 800 members as we strive to preserve the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry in New England and all the related agri-business and economic benefits it provides," Al Balestra, president of the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association said in a statement that was part of the Suffolk release. "It will clearly cost jobs on the Suffolk Downs’ backstretch and at Massachusetts farms and suppliers and my concern is that this will force more of our members to leave here to race in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, West Virginia and other states that have the benefit of expanded gaming at their racetracks."

Even with the reduction, Suffolk Downs officials said they expect the track to operate at a substantial deficit in 2010 and management is looking at additional cost-saving measures.