The Associated Press

Suffolk Downs Warns 2014 Racing Season Could Be Last

BOSTON — Suffolk Downs, New England’s only thoroughbred facility, warned on Wednesday that the 2014 racing season would likely be the last one at the 79-year-old track unless Mohegan Sun is awarded the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino license.

Suffolk Downs has promised to continue racing for at least the next 15 years if the Massachusetts Gaming Commission gives the license to Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun, which has proposed a $1.3 billion casino on land Suffolk Downs owns in Revere. But track officials have cited the difficulty of sustaining racing without income and crossover business generated by a gambling resort.

Wynn Resorts has a competing $1.6 billion casino proposal for a site along the Mystic River in Everett.

The racing season will begin on May 3, the same day as the running of the Kentucky Derby, allowing customers to wager on a simulcast of the famed race, Suffolk Downs announced.

“The start of the live race meet here always brings with it a sense of optimism and renewal, although this year that is tempered with concern for our workforce and the future here,” said Chip Tuttle, the track’s chief operating officer, in a statement.

The track said it has an agreement with a group representing New England horsemen to maintain racing at least through Sept. 1, but additional racing days this year or in the future would likely hinge on the licensing decision expected to be made later this year by the gambling commission.

The licensing process is clouded by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s bid to have his city designated as a host community for the proposed casinos in Revere and Everett, a request that, if granted, would allow voters in the neighboring East Boston and Charlestown neighborhoods to vote on the proposals.

East Boston voters rejected an earlier plan from Suffolk Downs for a resort casino that would straddle the Boston-Revere line. That prompted Mohegan Sun – defeated in an earlier bid for a casino in western Massachusetts – to enter the picture and offer a plan that would situate the facility entirely in Revere.

Walsh has argued the casino would remain intertwined with the racetrack, which sits mostly on the Boston side of the border, and that the casino would lean heavily on Boston’s transportation network, hotels and tourist attractions.

The sport of horse racing has been in steep decline in Massachusetts in recent years.

According to figures from the state racing commission and a report prepared for Suffolk Downs by Christiansen Capital Advisors, the track’s operating losses ranged from $11.8 million to $26.4 million over a recent five-year period while the track’s handle – the amount wagered on live races – plummeted from $27.6 million in 2000 to $6.5 million in 2012.

Suffolk Downs says the continuation of racing would not only preserve about 800 jobs at the track itself, but also hundreds of other jobs linked to the thoroughbred industry, including at breeding farms.

In February, the commission voted 3-2 to award its single slots parlor license to the Plainridge harness race track in Plainville, the only other Massachusetts horse racing facility. The three commissioners who backed Plainville cited the continuation of racing as a key factor in their decision.

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  • nopartyaffiliation

    In hindsight, Massachusetts should have gone the Racino route to begin with and could have avoided much of this controversy surrounding destination resort casinos and tim elines. By allowing the Massachusetts racetracks to expand their facilities into Racinos with full table games much of the controversy surrounding expanded gaming could have been avoided. The job creation would have been less but still quite good with four or five Racinos at the current tracks. All would have been up and running in much shorter order and would have been producing revenues and creating jobs. The Suffolk horseman and the thoroughbred industry in Massachusetts have been put in peril by the arrogance of Ceasars Entertainment and a greedy former Mayor Menino. The original problems with those parties and and a ridicuous pie in the sky host agreement certainly played a major role in East Boston voting no much more than the propaganda of the anti-casino movement.

    Allowing expanded gaming at facilities that already had gambling was a no brainer and could have minimized the uproar and hostilities in many host communities that went through referendums. It seems much more likely that many residents and citizens would have been much more open to expanded gaming at facilities that already had some forms of betting. The market is now much more geared to the smaller facilities than the large destination resorts at the present time. That being said Mohegan Sun and Suffolk Downs are the only choice at the present time. Wynn will never build in Everett and it’s more clear every day that is the case.

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