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.