11/21/2001 1:00AM

Phone bets legal in Mass.


Massachusetts legalized telephone wagering as part of a racing bill signed Saturday.

Gov. Jane Swift signed the legislation with no publicity, in part to avoid controversy over the bill, which was opposed by some lawmakers concerned about forecasted state budget deficits. Purses at Suffolk Downs will get an estimated $4 million from the bill. Among other provisions, the bill gives racetracks tax breaks and refunds uncashed tickets to the tracks.

The signing of the bill will likely restart discussions between Suffolk Downs, located in East Boston, and Magna Entertainment Corp., the national racetrack concern headed by Frank Stronach. Magna tabled negotiations to buy the track earlier this year as it awaited the results of the legislation.

"It's fair to say that those discussions will now accelerate," said Robert O'Malley, one of the owners of the track, on Wednesday.

Robert Hutchinson, the chairman of the Massachusetts Racing Commission, said regulators will likely need 60 days to draft rules governing account wagering.

"We should be able to get that done pretty much immediately," Hutchinson said. "I don't see a big problem there."

Thoroughbred horsemen have estimated that the tax breaks and money from uncashed parimutuel tickets will provide $3 million to $4 million in additional purse money each year. Suffolk usually runs 150 live racing days a year, meaning purses could get a boost of up to $27,000 a day.

The legislation will also expand the simulcasting rights of greyhound tracks, enabling the two greyhound facilities in the state to bring in Thoroughbred simulcasts at night. Thoroughbred supporters had objected to the language, fearing that they will lose customers to the greyhound tracks.