Oops: Legislature Accidentally Briefly Ends Live And Simulcast Horse Racing In The State

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Horses take a turn during a race at Suffolk Downs in Boston, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Horses take a turn during a race at Suffolk Downs in Boston, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. (Elise Amendola/AP)

1:45 p.m. UPDATE —

Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill Thursday afternoon to allow horse racing and simulcasting to resume in Massachusetts. Operations at three tracks and simulcasting centers were halted Wednesday after the state Legislature failed to pass a bill renewing the races' legal authorization before the legislative session ended.

At Suffolk Downs on Wednesday, fans of horse racing were surprised to learn that it was suddenly illegal in Massachusetts.

Soon after people got off the train at the Suffolk Downs T station, they found out there'd be no simulcast racing shown.

"Would you believe it? All my well-laid plans of betting the horses. Oh my God," laughed Robert Marano.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission notified the state's three horse tracks and simulcasting centers Wednesday morning to cease racing and simulcasting operations because the Legislature did not extend the authorization that expired July 31.

"The Commonwealth's racing legislation ... expired as of midnight on July 31, 2018. The legislature adjourned without taking action on a replacement or extension bill," Gaming Commission Executive Director Edward Bedrosian wrote to Suffolk Downs, Plainridge Park Racecourse and Raynham Taunton Greyhound Park. "As of today, there is no statutory authorization for live horse racing or simulcasting in the Commonwealth."

The Gaming Commission on Wednesday also added discussion of the matter to the agenda for its Thursday meeting as "an emergency item."

The House and Senate each return in informal sessions on Thursday and could move the racing and simulcasting bill to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk then, as long as no one objects.

A spokeswoman did not respond when asked what caused the bill to stall Tuesday night and did not say whether the Senate would advance the bill in its informal session Thursday.

"The Speaker is committed to ensuring that the people who rely on simulcasting to earn a living will continue to be able to do so," House Speaker Robert DeLeo spokeswoman Catherine Williams said. "He is optimistic that both the House and Senate will quickly reach consensus on extending the law."

At Plainridge Park Racecourse in Plainville, track officials were deciding Wednesday what to do about the slate of races it has scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public affairs and government relations at the track's parent company Penn Nation Gaming, said the company is hopeful that the Senate will take action on the bill Thursday morning so the races can go on as planned.

"We are optimistic that lawmakers will work toward a solution that allows live racing and simulcast wagering to resume in the Commonwealth soon," Schippers said in a statement. "More than 200 people, including track employees, trainers, drivers and groomsmen earn a living as part of our racing program at Plainridge Park Casino and are unable to work until the suspension is lifted."

Also at risk is the weekend of live racing Suffolk Downs has scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday, the third and final weekend of live races at the track this year.

Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, said millions of dollars could be lost if the Legislature doesn't act.

"We need to know tomorrow if we're a go this weekend or not because people have to get horses on vans and ship in for the weekend," Tuttle said. "As it is now, I'm sure just the uncertainty will have a pretty significant damaging effect on the weekend."

Tuttle said about 250 horses are expecting to run for a chance at purse money and the track is expecting as many as 13,000 spectators over the two days.

"Those people presumably want to show up and watch and wager on the races," he said. "The horsemen, the local horsemen and Massachusetts breeders, they have limited opportunities to run for purse money now and it would be a shame if this opportunity is denied to them given what happened."

Material from State House News Service was used for this report.

This article was originally published on August 02, 2018.

This segment aired on August 2, 2018.

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Quincy Walters Producer, WBUR Podcasts
Quincy Walters was a producer for WBUR Podcasts.



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