Who’s in charge of simulcasting?

Crosby to lawmakers: Stop giving simulcasting deals to Wonderland, Raynham

The Legislature and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission are in a power struggle over who controls the simulcasting of horse and greyhound races.

The issue surfaced on Thursday at a meeting of the Gaming Commission, where the agency approved the sale of Suffolk Downs to a private developer. During its deliberations, the commission veered off into a discussion of who in the state should be in charge of authorizing simulcasting.

The Gaming Commission oversees live racing events in Massachusetts, and with a license to do live racing comes the authority to take bets and do simulcasting of races at other tracks around the country. The Gaming Commission has licensed Suffolk Downs in East Boston to do six days of thoroughbred racing this year and Plainridge Park to do harness racing at its track in Plainville.

But the Legislature on a year-by-year basis keeps approving simulcast licenses for the long-closed greyhound dog tracks in Raynham and Revere. The tracks shut down in 2010 when voters outlawed greyhound racing. Lawmakers passed the statute to allow the tracks to make some money in order to keep some workers on the payroll rather than lose their jobs

The state agency that granted the tracks their licenses is also gone. But the Legislature keeps giving Wonderland and Raynham approval to continue simulcasting of dog and horse races around the country.

“The Wonderland license keeps getting renewed, not by us but by the Legislature,” said commission chairman Stephen Crosby at Thursday’s meeting. He added that the Raynham license is handled the same way. The Gaming Commission has filed legislation that would centralize authority over simulcasting at the agency.

“This is not all black and white. It’s complicated,” Crosby said.

Wonderland is owned by Charlie Sarkis’s Westwood Group, while Raynham is owned by George Carney. Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer of Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, the company that currently owns Suffolk Downs, said his firm runs the simulcasting operation at Wonderland under a contract with Westwood.

Crosby made his comments in responding to a couple of emails the commission received urging the agency to sever ties with Sterling Suffolk. One of the emails came from Rep. Steven Howitt of Seekonk, who suggested that with the sale of Suffolk Downs, the commission should move on from Sterling Suffolk. Others have suggested that the Gaming Commission should find a company willing to invest more in Massachusetts horse racing.

Crosby said the Gaming Commission has already authorized Suffolk Downs to hold six racing days this year at the track and to do simulcasting year round. He also stressed that the commission has received no inquiries from anyone interested in launching thoroughbred horse-racing in Massachusetts.

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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.

Enrique Zuniga, a member of the Gaming Commission, said the Legislature’s continuous approval of simulcasting at closed dog tracks creates uncertainty in the market and prevents other firms from investing.

Tuttle said Sterling Suffolk plans to sell its Suffolk Downs property in April to HYM Group and then lease it back to hold six days of thoroughbred racing (and year-round simulcasting) at the track.

–BRUCE MOHL