Why Simulcasting Might Be Holding Horse Racing Back In Massachusetts

Written By Steve Ruddock on August 15, 2017
racing horses at starting gate

[toc]Simulcast racing will continue at three Massachusetts facilities after Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill extending simulcast racing laws for another year. Baker’s signature extends the simulcast agreements at Plainridge Park Casino, Raynham Park, and Suffolk Downs until July 31, 2018.

Baker signed the bill over the protestations of the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

The pro-racing group believes the continuation of simulcast racing is the only thing keeping the doors of one of the facilities, Suffolk Downs, open. Until the facility is closed, live thoroughbred horseracing won’t return to the Commonwealth.

Racing in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has three racetracks, but only one of them is currently operational: Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, Massachusetts, a harness racing track.

The other two tracks, Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Raynham Park in Raynham, operate almost exclusively as simulcast facilities.

Suffolk Downs fate sealed by casinos

Suffolk Downs was a strong contender for one of the state’s casino licenses. However, when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awarded the license to the Wynn Boston Harbor project, the facility all but ended live racing, cut its staff, and is more or less an off-track-betting parlor.

Raynham Park last vestige of a bygone era

Raynham Park, a former dog track, ended live racing after Massachusetts outlawed dog racing in 2008. The facility now operates as an off-track-betting parlor.

But that might be changing.

Plans for Raynham Park

The Stronach Group, the largest racing company in the US which runs tracks like Santa Anita and Pimlico, has its eyes fixed on Raynham Park. The group would like to reopen it as a thoroughbred horseracing track.

The company’s interest most likely has to do with:

  • The overall lack of live racing in Massachusetts
  • The state’s 2011 casino law, which provides subsidies to the horseracing industry

The Race Horse Development Fund

With only Plainridge Park contributing, the Massachusetts Race Horse Development Fund already holds $13.5 million. This fund has led to increased live racing at Plainridge Park Casino.

Local publication The Enterprise elaborated on Plainridge Park’s success:

“Plainridge Park Casino is running 125 racing days, up from 80; purses have increased from $2.6 million in 2014 to $7.4 million in 2017, the live racing handle has more than doubled to $7.6 million to $18 million, and annual registered yearlings (one-year-old standardbred horses) have increased from 36 to 51.”

When MGM and Wynn open, they will pump even more money into the RHDF. This could explain Stronach’s interest in repurposing Raynham Park, and bringing more horseracing to Massachusetts.

Stronach wants assurances before committing to MA

Stronach says it wants assurances that Massachusetts would be a favorable environment. That seems to include the end of simulcasting at Suffolk Downs, which holds only a handful of racing days.

For their part, Suffolk Downs finds this argument lacking. Suffold Downs submitted testimony to the legislature, which included the following:

“There is no basis in the law or the racing and simulcasting experience in Massachusetts for the assertion that ongoing wagering at Suffolk Downs is preventing the development of a new thoroughbred track in the Commonwealth.”

Essentially, before it makes an investment in Massachusetts that includes thoroughbred racing, Stronach would like to see Suffolk Downs, which is about 40 minutes away from Raynham Park, end simulcast racing, and permanently shut its doors.

In addition to Suffolk Downs offering simulcasting without having to offer live racing, another fear could be the money sitting in the RHDF might entice the Suffolk Downs owners to increase live racing days, which would be more direct competition to Stronach’s planned Raynham Park project.

With the Governor signing the simulcast extension, Stronach’s interest in Raynham Park will likely put on hold until next year.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a veteran of the poker media, contributing to offline and online publications centered on the regulated US online gambling industry. These include OnlinePokerReport.com, PlayNJ.com, USPoker.com as well as USA Today. Steve is based in Massachusetts and is also a poker player.

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