Mass. lawmakers may have, unknowingly, banned horse racing

The absence of a law on the books means horse racing and simulcast services have been suspended.

Massachusetts lawmakers did not enact a bill Tuesday that extends racing and simulcasting into next year, putting both on suspension.
Massachusetts lawmakers did not enact a bill Tuesday that extends racing and simulcasting into next year, putting both on suspension. –iStock

Massachusetts lawmakers may be racing for a solution after the legislature did not extend laws allowing for live racing and simulcasting into next year as it scrambled to finish its formal legislative session early Wednesday morning.

Now, since existing laws expired Tuesday, the absence of a law on the books means horse racing and simulcast services have been suspended, putting scheduled races this week and employment for hundreds in jeopardy.

“Please be advised that until further notice from the Gaming Commission, simulcasting in all forms under any license at your facilities is suspended,” Massachusetts Gaming Commission Executive Director Edward Bedrosian wrote to license holders Wednesday in a letter obtained by Boston.com. “Further, live racing at Suffolk Downs and Plainridge Park is also suspended until further notice.”

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The bill, which was not addressed during Tuesday’s session that extended into Wednesday morning, allows for live racing and simulcasting through July 31, 2019. In recent years, lawmakers have passed the measure on a year-by-year basis, generally toward the end of legislative sessions.

“These are not contentious issues, but the cycle of the extension of not being longer term or the extension not happening until late in the session has come back to bite us,” Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of East Boston’s Suffolk Downs, told Boston.com Wednesday.

The racetrack suspended simulcasting but is cautiously optimistic that the matter will be addressed in an informal legislative session that starts Thursday, Tuttle said, adding that both State House branches have indicated the issue is a priority.

Suffolk Downs hosts live races three to four weeks a year, including races scheduled for Saturday, according to Tuttle, who said the racetrack brings in additional employees for live-racing events.

“There’s 170 people working here during the weekend of live racing,” he said, adding that does not count horse owners, jockeys, trainers, and others who make their way to the racetrack. “It’s a major undertaking.”

Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, which could not be reached for comment, had a race scheduled for Thursday, according to its website.

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A message at Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park, a simulcast center in Raynham, alerted phone callers Wednesday that it is temporarily closed because of the situation.

State Senate President Karen Spilka’s office said it is “aware of the seriousness of this issue and is actively working to resolve it” with the state House of Representatives.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he is optimistic that the House and Senate will be able to quickly extend the law.

“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,” she wrote in an email to Boston.com.

The Gaming Commission, which had previously scheduled public meeting set for Thursday in Springfield, has now listed the matter at the top of its agenda.