Gaming Commission: Hands off horse fund

Gaming Commission: Hands off horse fund

Members seem eager to revive thoroughbred racing

STILL HOPEFUL THEY CAN REVIVE thoroughbred racing in the state, the members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday said they intend to lobby lawmakers to leave intact a fund designed to prop up the industry.

A number of proposals have surfaced on Beacon Hill in recent weeks to tap the Horse Race Development Fund, which relies on money from casino gambling taxes and licensing fees. The commission in the past has steered a neutral course with the Legislature, but at Thursday’s meeting in Springfield the members collectively decided to adopt a more assertive role.

They asked Chairman Stephen Crosby to take the lead role in pushing the Legislature to adopt legislation giving the commission full regulatory authority over horse racing and to leave the money in the Horse Race Development Fund alone.

By statute, the money in the Horse Race Development Fund can be used to subsidize purses for both harness and thoroughbred races. The fund has helped revive harness racing at Plainridge Park Casino, a slots parlor owned by Penn Gaming. But thoroughbred racing hasn’t fared as well. Suffolk Downs, which lost out in its bid for a casino license, has been sold to a developer and only six racing days are slated for the track this year. With little thoroughbred racing taking place, millions of dollars in the Horse Race Development Fund have gone unused.

Many think thoroughbred racing is dead in Massachusetts, but a group of industry officials are pushing the state to use money in the Race Horse Development Fund to study and possibly finance the construction of a $150 million horse park in central Massachusetts that would come with a track.

Crosby said the Gaming Commission typically takes the view that “our job is to implement the law, not write it.” But he said the debate over the Race Horse Development Fund is different.

“At the request of the Legislature, we put in legislation that we think would give us the tools and give the industry the tools to come up with a strategic plan where the Racehorse Development Fund might be able to be put to use for a strategy that could sustain the thoroughbred industry,” he said. “We don’t know for sure, but at least we think with that reform legislation we would have a chance.”

Crosby put a question to his fellow commissioners. “Should we take a proactive position and state our implicit judgment that to eviscerate or radically alter the Race Horse Development Fund prior to passing the reform regulation legislation does not make sense?”

Meet the Author

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.

Commissioner Gayle Cameron and the other three commissioners said they are on board with trying to help the ailing thoroughbred industry in Massachusetts. “There are a lot of horsemen out there who think, because they haven’t heard from us, that we’re not supporting them,” Cameron said. But she said that’s not the case.

“One of our obligations under the statute is to support and protect the industry,” she said. “I would love the standardbreds [the horses used in harness racing] to have the opportunity to continue with the work they’re doing. I would love to see the thoroughbred folks have the opportunity, if they can, to have a place to race and be able to utilize what that money was intended for also. I do support that. I hope that’s possible.”