$12m sitting unused in horse fund

Money a concern as racing committee sets ‘split’

STATE OFFICIALS SAID on Wednesday that $12 million is currently sitting unused in a fund that provides purses for horse races.

The fund, which relies on gambling revenues that flow to the state, has often been eyed by officials on Beacon Hill looking for money to help balance the budget. So far the money has not been touched, but a five-member committee that partially oversees horse racing is clearly worried about that prospect. They gathered on Wednesday at the offices of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in Boston to sort out how the thoroughbred and harness racing industries should split money flowing into the fund.

The money is currently split 55-45, with 55 percent going to harness racing purses and 45 percent to thoroughbred racing purses. Peter Goldberg, the harness racing representative on the committee, said his industry is doing well and deserves 75 percent of the funds. Frank Frisoli, the thoroughbred representative, favored the status quo, holding out hope that someone would soon open a thoroughbred race track in Massachusetts.

Stephen Reilly, a Springfield attorney who chairs the committee, said he supported a greater percentage of the money going to harness racing because he feared funds going to thoroughbreds could end up going unused. Officials said the overall amount of money in the fund should rise next year when the MGM casino in Springfield opens in September and a portion of its revenues go to support horse racing.

After two hours of often contentious debate, the committee voted 4-1 for a 60-40 split, which was slightly less than the 65-35 split favored by Reilly. The new split will be applied retroactively to races going back to the beginning of 2017. The committee hopes to meet in January to set the split for 2018.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The prospects for a new thoroughbred track are uncertain. Suffolk Downs in East Boston has been sold to a developer, but the operator of the track is continuing to lease the property and has applied to host six race days there in 2018. No one else has filed an application to host thoroughbred races in 2018, although the Stronach Group, a major gambling and horse racing company, and the operators of Suffolk Downs have indicated they might open new tracks in Massachusetts under certain conditions.

Harness racing at Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville has rebounded over the last few years, but Penn National, the owner of the track, applied for only 100 racing days in 2018, down from 125 this year.