09/23/2014 1:38PM

Horsemen urge fight against repeal of casino law

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Living well is the best revenge.

That’s why officials of the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association are imploring the membership to vote against repeal of the Massachusetts expanded gaming legislation in a Nov. 4 statewide referendum. They want to reap the rewards of the bill’s built-in benefits for the state’s racing industry.

Thoroughbred horsemen and breeders, track employees and racing fans were left embittered by the recent decision of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to deny the proposal of Mohegan Sun, Suffolk Downs gaming partner, to develop a world-class casino on track grounds. When the single Boston-area casino license was instead given to Wynn Resorts for its $1.6 billion project two miles from the track, Suffolk’s owners announced live racing will come to an end and the track will be shuttered soon.

That caused many to express the sentiment that if Suffolk can’t have a casino, then no one else should have one either.

Those sour grapes could destroy the protections for the racing industry that are guaranteed in the legislation through the establishment of the Race Horse Development Fund, according to New England HBPA president Anthony Spadea.

“If the anti-casino forces are successful in November and the legislation is repealed, there will be no money from casinos going into the Race Horse Development Fund to support our purses, our breeders, and the people who work and live on the backside,” he said. “The issue is very clear.”

The law dedicates 5 percent of the $175 million total license fees for the three casinos and one slots parlor, 9 percent of the slots revenue, and .625 percent of the combined casino gross gaming revenue to the Race Horse Development Fund. Of that total, 75 percent will go the state’s Thoroughbred industry and 25 percent to the Standardbreds, with 80 percent dedicated to purses, 16 percent to breeders’ incentives and 4 percent for backstretch welfare.

The Thoroughbred horsemen’s share is projected to exceed $100 million once all of the gaming facilities are operational. Without an operational track in the state, the money will be held in escrow for three fiscal years.

“We need to stand together to protect our purses and our livelihood,” Spadea said. “I cannot state this strongly enough. Any horseman who votes ‘yes’ on Question 3 is voting against his or her own self-interest,. Let’s be strong and be Boston Strong for Thoroughbred racing.”

Trainer said Kevin McCarthy said: “I don’t know if everyone on the backside understands that it would be foolish to vote for repeal, but I certainly do. If that repeal passes, it eliminates any chance of anyone coming in and saving us.”

Spadea, a certified financial planner and investment manager who also runs a large insurance business, is working with other experts to develop an economically viable plan to keep racing alive in Massachusetts. The New England HBPA approached Suffolk Downs about a potential lease agreement with the track next year, and track management said it will keep an open mind as long as the plan makes monetary sense and is feasible.

In related news, instead of ending the current meet on Sept. 29 as originally scheduled, Suffolk will now add one more day to give the 79-year-old track a proper send-off on Saturday, Oct. 4.

“There has been an outpouring of support since last week’s events and we felt that it would be more fitting to have the last day of racing here on a Saturday than on a weekday to give more people a chance to take part in a fitting celebration of the end of an era here,” said Chip Tuttle, Suffolk Downs chief operating officer.

The added day also gives seasonal employees an extra week of work. Full-time employees received layoff notices, effective Nov. 20.