06/22/2016 2:13PM

Massachusetts moves toward granting more casino money to Standardbreds than Thoroughbreds


The racing committee of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted on Monday to revise the percentage of total casino subsidies that go to the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries this year in favor of Standardbreds, according to state officials.

The five-member committee voted 4-1 to divide the subsidies for the 2016 calendar year on a 55-45 split, with 55 percent going to Standardbreds, retroactive to the beginning of the year. The previous split of 75-25, approved in 2014, favored Thoroughbreds, but since that approval, the number of live racing dates for Thoroughbred racing in the state has plummeted while harness racing has continued unabated.

To go into effect, the decision by the committee must be approved by the full gaming commission, which is scheduled to meet on Thursday. Typically, full commissions approve the decisions of their committees.

The decision is at least a temporary blow to the state’s Thoroughbred industry, which has been reduced to a handful of live racing dates a year since Suffolk Downs, the state’s only Thoroughbred track, was passed over for one of the state’s casino licenses in 2014. In the wake of the decision, Suffolk’s owners announced that they intended to develop the property, though three live racing dates were held last year at the track and six are scheduled for this year, beginning July 9.

Lou Raffetto, a consultant to the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said the decision to change the splits likely would be revisited for the 2017 calendar year after the state’s legislative session ends later this year. The New England HBPA is attempting to get a bill passed this year that would allow the group to use its share of casino subsidies to guarantee bonds that would be used to construct an equestrian center in the state. That equine center would then be used to expand the number of live Thoroughbred dates in the state.

“It’s all going to depend on how we do with our bill,” Raffetto said. Raffetto noted that an escrow account for Thoroughbred horsemen currently contains $8 million in casino subsidies, and that fund remains untouched by the change in the breed splits approved Monday.

Although Thoroughbred dates have plummeted, Plainridge Park, the state’s only harness track, ran 100 live race dates last year and, by statute, will run 115 dates this year. Plainridge Park, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc., received the state’s first casino license, and it began taking slot-machine bets last summer.  

Also at the Thursday meeting, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is expected to consider a request by Suffolk Downs and the New England HBPA to offer a 15 percent takeout across the board on all of its wagers. The commission is also expected to consider the approval of 15 days of Thoroughbred racing at Brockton Fairgrounds.