01/22/2014 5:09PM

With casino license still up in the air, Suffolk Downs plans to race in 2014


BOSTON -- Even though the Massachusetts Gaming Commission isn’t scheduled to award the sole destination resort casino license designated for the Greater Boston area until sometime in May, Suffolk Downs intends to host a live meet beginning sometime in the spring of 2014.

“We plan to run this year,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs after competitors Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts made their final presentations before the MGC on Jan. 22

Track officials and the New England horsemen have not yet agreed on a purse agreement for the upcoming meet or settled on the dates, although Tuttle said he expects talks to continue this week.

For 2014, Suffolk Downs applied for 100 dates as required by law and the MGC granted the racing license at the end of last year. In recent seasons, Suffolk has opened at the beginning of June and run through the first weekend in November, but there is a possibility the track could revert to opening on Kentucky Derby Day and wrapping up earlier to accommodate potential construction issues should Mohegan Sun win the license.

Mohegan Sun has proposed a $1 billion-plus casino development on the city of Revere side of the grounds of the 79-year racetrack, which is the lone surviving Thoroughbred facility in New England. State law would require the racing and gaming operations to be entirely separate should the casino titan secure the license.

The competing Wynn proposal calls for a $1.6 billion casino in the City of Everett, located just two miles from Suffolk Downs.

Mitchell Etess, the chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun, said in his final summation to the MGC on Jan. 22 that live Thoroughbred racing will be safeguarded at Suffolk Downs if Mohegan Sun prevails.

“Without the revenue from the land lease, the owners of Suffolk Downs cannot continue to sustain their losses,” Etess said while discussing the continuity of Suffolk Downs.

Tuttle has long maintained that the track, which has been losing money since 2007, cannot continue to operate live racing on its own.

The backstretch is located on the Revere side of the property, which Suffolk leased to the gaming concern. It would have to be torn down and moved to the East Boston side of the track or off-site before the casino became operational. Renovation of part of the existing grandstand to accommodate horses and the construction of several new barns currently is an option, as is stabling and training the horses off-site and then shipping them in on race days.