JC / Railbird

No Bluff

When the Boston Globe endorsed the Wynn-Everett casino proposal the day before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission began its deliberations on the Boston-area license, the newspaper dismissed the likelihood that Suffolk Downs would close unless Mohegan Sun was the winner:

According to the track, it will end racing if the casino does not open. But the commission ought to take the doom-and-gloom warnings with a grain of salt; threats to close may be a pressure tactic.

Nope, to the surprise of no one who actually follows racing in Massachusetts. The track owners have been upfront about the situation for years — racing at Suffolk would continue only with a casino. (Had expanded gaming legislation not passed in 2011, it’s very possible the track would have closed then.) With the Mohegan bid dead, the process of shutting down began:

… on Wednesday morning, Suffolk Downs chief Chip Tuttle stood before 200 emotional employees in the Topsider Room overlooking the track, hailing them for fighting the good fight, and then telling them what they already knew. On his desk, a three-inch deep pile of letters giving employees 60 days notice awaited his signature.

Heartbreaking, as is Lynne Snierson’s report from Suffolk Downs, where people around the track were reeling from the loss and grappling with the question of what they would do next. “Where am I going to take my family and start my life over?”, said Tammi Piermarini, four-time leading jockey:

“I have to uproot and go someplace because riding horses is my business. It’s hard enough being a woman in a male-dominated sport, but now I’m 47. I may be the third-winningest female rider, but trainers are going to say, ‘What has she done lately?’”

Jon Chesto wonders why the commission seemingly gave less weight to the Thoroughbred industry than it did harness when it awarded the slots license to the Penn National-Plainridge proposal earlier this year:

For some reason, though, the commission handled this vote quite differently. Unlike in February, the commissioners gave no mention to the economic benefits of horse racing in their summarized assessments of the two proposals that became public last week. As a result, it was barely a factor in the final deliberations that led up to the 3-1 vote … Mohegan got points for the design of its Revere proposal, and its cooperative efforts to reach a mitigation agreement with Boston officials. Mohegan didn’t get points, at least not formally, for protecting Suffolk’s workers.

Informally, it got points from Gayle Cameron, the sole commissioner to argue for Thoroughbred racing during deliberations (“We’re talking about preserving jobs, preserving the existing industry, and I think that’s worth some weight in this discussion,” she said on Monday) — and yet, she ultimately joined commissioners Enrique Zuniga and Bruce Stebbins in voting for Wynn.

Chesto suggests that the difference between the votes may have been due to Mohegan Sun distancing itself from the Suffolk racing operation, which was necessary because the East Boston referendum results mandated that there could be no casino operations or facilities on that side of the track’s property. Maybe — that certainly seems plausible. But maybe the commissioners — like the Globe — thought the track’s threat to close wasn’t entirely serious. In a report for the Commission, HLT Advisory downplayed the possible disruption to the state’s Thoroughbred industry if Suffolk shut down (PDF):

Despite public comments by Sterling Suffolk Racecourse LLC and others that Suffolk Downs will close if MSM is not successful with their Category 1 Application, continuation of thoroughbred racing in Massachusetts will be dependent on a variety of factors, including consumer interest in the racing product, ongoing underwriting of any future losses by Sterling Suffolk or others, underlying land value/development potential of the racetrack and competitive influences. Some thoroughbred racing activity may continue at Suffolk Downs or at another new/renovated racetrack elsewhere in Massachusetts in the future as revenues are generated for the Horse Racing Development Fund.

LOL at the idea of a new, non-casino racetrack being built in a local gaming market that’s about to become extremely competitive, even with 75% of the $133 million that HLT projects flowing into the Racing Development Fund over five years allocated to Thoroughbred racing:

The table provided by HLT to MGC showing the source of monies available to the Racehorse Development Fun and the five-year projected total

According to a statement issued this afternoon, “the Commission and its Racing Division are fully committed to an extensive and sustained exploration of every available option that may preserve the long tradition of thoroughbred racing in the Commonwealth.” They will discuss the matter at a meeting on September 25. The last day of racing at Suffolk Downs will be September 29.