07/25/2017 4:21PM

Stronach Group mulling plans for Massachusetts racing

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Stronach Group executive Tim Ritvo has met with owners of a defunct greyhound track to discuss the possibility of expanding the facility into a Thoroughbred racetrack.

The Stronach Group has asked the Massachusetts state legislature to give the state gambling commission more power to change simulcasting and account-wagering laws in order to pave the way for a proposed partnership on a Thoroughbred meet at the defunct Raynham greyhound track in 2018, an official of the company said on Tuesday.

Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer of the racing division of The Stronach Group, said he made the request to several state legislators and the racing commission after meeting with George and Chris Carney, the owners of the greyhound track, earlier in the day. Ritvo said the intent of the request was to enable The Stronach Group to control simulcasting in the state and guarantee that the company receives a cut from wagering made at other simulcasting sites and through account-wagering companies that compete with XpressBet, The Stronach Company’s own account-wagering company, if the company operated a meet at Raynham next year.

“It’s hard to go back and change law,” Ritvo said. “The [gambling] commission can take a look at that and move a lot more quickly. And the main intent is to make sure that the people who are putting on the show, the track owners and the horsemen, that they get a share of all the simulcasting money.”

The meetings on Monday were the continuation of informal discussions between Ritvo and the Carney family over a Thoroughbred meet at Raynham, which is located in the southeastern part of Massachusetts, near the border with Rhode Island. The track has not held live greyhound racing since 2010, when a referendum outlawing greyhound racing when into effect, though the facility has remained open as a simulcast parlor since then.

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Like most greyhound tracks, Raynham has a three-eighths-mile dirt track and no facilities for the on-site stabling of horses. Both Ritvo and Chris Carney, the son of George Carney, said that the goal would be to build out a six-furlong or seven-furlong racing surface at the facility and construct barns for approximately 300 horses. The discussion Tuesday centered on the possibility of a 30-day meet, both said.

Chris Carney said that he did not know how much it would cost to upgrade the dog track for a horse meet, but he noted that the installation of a five-eighths track at the Brockton Fairgrounds in 2001 cost $5 million. The Carney family also owns Brockton.

“We didn’t get too deep into the [the costs], but we did talk about going to the state for some money from the Race Horse Development Fund to do it,” Carney said.

The Race Horse Development Fund had collected $15 million in fees from casino operations by the end of the commission’s fiscal year in June, 2016, according to the commission’s annual report, and it was expected to collect at least that much in the next fiscal year, meaning that the fund currently has $30 million in it. The development fund was created when the state passed legislation allowing for casino gambling, and by law it is supposed to provide subsidies for purses and breeder awards.

Ritvo said that there could be “creative ways” to use the Race Horse Development Fund to pay for the renovations, such as allowing The Stronach Group to retain a larger share of the pari-mutuel handle if the fund were used to provide all of the money for purses at the meet. He also said that the fund could be used to directly provide money for “capital improvements” at racetracks, as is the case in Maryland, where The Stronach Group owns two tracks.

“That would be great,” Ritvo said. “We’d hope that they look at all of the options that are available.”

The New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is also hoping to use the fund to provide a backdrop for its plan to build an equine center that would hold race meets in the future. That organization does not support the plan to hold races at Raynham, contending that the proposal would sap energy from its own efforts to build the new facility.

Officials at the racing commission did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The commission’s annual report also noted that total pari-mutuel handle in the state in fiscal year 2016 was estimated at $200 million, largely through wagering on simulcast signals. That is a rough estimate of the size of the pari-mutuel market in the state, relevant to The Stronach Group’s request to control simulcasting operations in the state and obtain a cut of betting through other account-wagering companies.

“It all comes down to the legislature,” Ritvo said. “How do we run a 30-day meet a year from now and make it profitable? It’s up to them to work with us to do that.”