JC / Railbird

Simulcasting Expires

Because state lawmakers couldn’t agree on how long to extend the Massachusetts simulcasting law and track owners couldn’t agree on the number of races each was allowed to show, the legislature adjourned Friday without renewing the simulcasting law, which means simulcasting expired in the state at midnight Friday. Up to 80 employees may be laid off from Suffolk Downs, which will be closed at least through Monday, and Massachusetts racing fans won’t be able to bet on Saturday’s Florida Derby at either Suffolk or Plainridge.

Slots and simulcasting are closely linked in the state right now, and some slots supporters think that the simulcasting shutdown will put pressure on House members to vote yes when the slots bill comes up for debate on Wednesday. Revere representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein sees just such a political silver lining in the situation:

”It’s going to bring more people to the State House to show people that they need to be employed,” Reinstein said. ”There’s no other way to do that than to have them out of work.

”I never hoped it would come to this, but, now that it has, I want everyone at the State House,” she continued.

Suffolk spokesman Chip Tuttle said the Florida Derby is usually a big day, with more than $1 million wagered, and expressed concern for workers:

”There are lots of employees who live paycheck to paycheck, and the idea that they’re going to be out of work for four or five or six days, with no certainty of when they come back to work, is disturbing,” he said. ”They’re very disappointed.”

When House speaker Sal DiMasi called Massachusetts racing a “dying industry” he was right. Look at the the revenue numbers for 2002-2004: Every source of handle is in decline. And when union representative Louis Ciarlone asserts that the industry isn’t dying, “it’s an industry that’s being killed,” he’s right too. Until the simulcasting bill is renewed by the legislature, significant dollars will be lost by tracks that can ill afford to lose any money. But there’s plenty of blame to go around. As this latest snafu illustrates so well, the state’s racing industry is doomed as much by the track owners as it is by the lawmakers.