By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
---- — BOSTON — The future of horse racing in the commonwealth does not hinge on how the state’s two tracks fare in their bidding for slots or resort casino licenses, Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said Thursday.
“There’s money from the gambling that’s going to go towards the horse racing industry, basically to the purse accounts,” Crosby told reporters. “It’s a fair amount of money, and as you drive the purse accounts up, you bring in better horses, you get more betting you get more audience.”
The commission also voted Thursday to adopt regulations bringing the state’s racing industry in line with regional standards for enforcement of drugs and steroids.
The purse, or prize money for winning horses, will rise with the new gaming industry, as the state’s slots parlor will contribute 9 percent of its revenue to racehorse development, and 2.5 percent of the 25 percent tax on casino resorts will go towards raising the purse and developing breeding programs.
“That is the virtuous cycle that you’re trying to generate by driving money into the purse accounts,” Crosby said. “So there will be money going into the industry from the casino and slots parlor whether or not there’s a license there.”
The Gaming Commission disqualified Plainridge Racecourse from pursuit of the state’s lone slots license because former track president Gary Piontkowski, the former chairman of the Mass. Racing Commission, was found to have secretly withdrawn money from the track’s money room. The Boston Globe reported Penn National could seek to develop the harness track into a slots parlor.
Suffolk Downs, a thoroughbred track along the Blue Line in East Boston and Revere that has teamed up with Caesar’s Entertainment, is still in the running for the lone casino license in Metro Boston and Worcester.
The racing industry is in decline, and owners of both Plainridge and Suffolk Downs have pinned their hopes to expanded gaming, according to a July 2012 report submitted to the commission.
“If unsuccessful in their quest for expanded gaming, both tracks currently offering live racing do not envision continued racing at their physical plants (at least not with current ownership),” the report stated.
Neither proposal is a sure bet. There are two other developers who have announced plans to seek a casino license in the area, and other gaming interests have proposed slots parlors around the state.
“The people who own these things now are there for the gambling. They’re not racing people; they’re gambling, casino people,” said Crosby. “Somebody might buy them with a whole new economic model, so I don’t think it’s definite at all. It will take some adjusting.”
George Carney, who owns the former Raynham dog track that now features simulcast betting, plans to pursue a harness horse racing track in Brockton if he is successful in winning a slots license for the Raynham facility, he told the News Service.
“We’d be looking at huge purses to be paid to the harness people,” said Carney, who said he has run horse racing at the Brockton Fairgrounds in the past.
Crosby said there is a task force working to “be proactive about how we can maintain the horse racing industry in Massachusetts no matter what happens.”
Separately the Gaming Commission adopted new regulations, expanding penalties for the use of banned drugs in the horses, and an adjustment to the thresholds for steroids in the horses’ systems.
According to the commission, the rules change will bring the state in line with a “uniform medication and drug testing program” that eight states have pledged to support, and Racing Division Director Jennifer Durenberger hopes the rules to go into effect regionally by Jan. 1, 2014.
“I think uniformity is the goal, but the reality is you do still operate in a state system,” said Durenberger before the commission voted to accept the regulatory changes, which she said were the culmination of a two-year process and review by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.