Massachusetts Reduces Thoroughbreds' Cut of Fund

Change applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2017.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted Dec. 7 to approve a revision in the percentage split of the state's Horse Racing Development Fund that will strip money from the Thoroughbred horsemen and redirect to it to Standardbreds.

Commissioners also authorized making the change in the percentages retroactive to Jan. 1, 2017.

The first motion, which approves the Oct. 19 vote of the MGC's Horse Racing subcommittee to award harness horsemen more of the RHDF money by amending the split to 60%-40% from the previous 55%-45% division, carried unanimously. The second motion to make the change effective Jan. 1, 2017 passed on a 4-1 voice vote.

Commissioner Gayle Cameron, who serves as the MGC's representative on the HRC, noted that the reason to make the change retroactive is that the five-member HRC did not have a quorum at meetings consistently throughout the year and thus was unable finish its work on the issue of the splits earlier on the calendar.

The 5% of the RHDF share that is being taken away from the Thoroughbred horsemen hits the breeders and health and welfare programs hardest.

The MGC's Director of Racing and chief veterinarian, Dr. Alex Lightbown, said that the funding reductions as of Oct. 31, 2017 amount to $65,000 less for the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders' Association and $25,000 less for backstretch welfare. She added that purses won't be affected as much because the account is not all being used because of the track's abbreviated racing schedule.

The RHDF, established as part of the 2011 Massachusetts expanding gambling act to ensure survival of the state's struggling Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries, must be split between the two and is to be allocated 80% for purses, 16% to breeders, and 4% to health and welfare. 

With Suffolk Downs racing just eight days in 2017 and applying for six live dates in 2018, the Thoroughbred breeders sponsor races restricted to Massachusetts-breds at Finger Lakes. The MGC's decision, in effect, now means there will be about $65,000 less for purses of those races in New York.

It's the second change to the splits in recent years. In 2016 the HRC changed the RHDF splits from 75% Thoroughbred-25% Standardbred to 55% Standardbred-45% Thoroughbred and also made the change retroactive to Jan. 1.

The commissioners noted that prior to the Dec. 7 meeting they received a letter from a law firm representing some Thoroughbred stakeholders that challenges the MGC's authority to make the split changes retroactively.

Todd Grossman, the MGC's deputy counsel, testified that while state statue says a regulatory agency such as the commission cannot adopt or change policies retroactively, that is not being done in this case as it is only the mechanism for making the payments that is being changed. He added that the commissioners are only exercising their requirement to administer the fund.