Bill Provides Stability for Massachusetts Tracks

The simulcasting signal bill signed into law Jan. 2 by outgoing Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney covering the next two years should provide the state's four racetracks some needed stability for an industry struggling with competition from racinos and casinos in adjoining stakes, track officials agree.

The compromise measure includes Suffolk Downs (Thoroughbred), Wonderland Greyhound and Raynham/Taunton Greyhound (dogs), and Plainridge Racecourse (harness).

"This certainly brings us some stability," said Suffolk spokesman Christian Teja on Jan. 4. "Last year, we received a three-month extension in January, then faced a temporary stoppage in early April, until another extension was granted to Dec. 31st of this past year.

"This created a great uncertainty in attracting outfits to ship to Suffolk for the recently concluded meet. This time around, racing secretary Jim Pambianchi can tell prospective owners and trainers that Suffolk Downs will definitely be here for the next two years."

Suffolks Down resumed simulcasting Jan. 3 after closing for two days following expiration of the previous bill.

As part of the new legislation, Suffolk Downs will only be required to run 900 live races within 100 racing days, down from 1,100 live races and 150 racing days in the recent past. Seven live races constitute a racing card.

The 2007 Suffolk meet is scheduled to run from Kentucky Derby Day, May 5, until Nov. 10.

Another significant portion of the bill that should prove positive for Suffolk Downs is a provision that allows those people who bet via account wagering to use credit cards and debit cards, which was prohibited in the past.

In 2006, the sole stakes races carded by Suffolk Downs were written for Massachusetts-bred horses, with the Massachusetts Handicap (gr. II), scheduled to be run in September, temporarily scrapped. No determination has been made as yet on the stakes schedule for 2007. That will be an ongoing process.

As part of the new legislation, jointly passed by both branches, Raynham/Taunton will now receive two additional simulcast signals, which have currently been allocated to Gulfstream Park and Laurel Racecourse, both Thoroughbred venues.

Plainridge Racecourse will receive one extra greyhound signal.

Though Plainridge will also be allowed to reduce live racing from 1,100 races to 900 if it so chooses, it appears that the track may have sacrificed the most to get the deal done. The lost simulcasting revenue to neighboring Raynham/Taunton will only cause the harness track to fall further behind other competitors.

General Manager Steven O'Toole cites the reopening of Vernon Downs, the opening of tracks in Chester, Pa., and Tioga, N.Y., and the continuation of Yonkers, Saratoga, and Maine, each with slot machines.

Massachusetts tracks are hoping that the state legislature will revisit the possibility of Suffolk, Plainridge, Wonderland, and Raynham/Taunton becoming a host site for slot machines in 2007.