Simulcast wagering on horse and dog races resumed Thursday afternoon and live horse races scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be run as planned after the Legislature re-authorized racing and simulcasting after it was illegal for about 36 hours.
Racing and simulcasting became illegal in Massachusetts because the Legislature did not extend their legal authority before it expired July 31, leading the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to direct the state’s three tracks and simulcasting centers to cease operations until further notice.
A bill (H 4809) that would have extended the authorization for racing and simulcasting for another year was passed by the House July 25 and cleared the Senate around 11 p.m. Tuesday, during the final formal session of the year. In the flurry of last-minute activity, the Senate, which met until 1:20 a.m., did not take the next step to keep the bill advancing towards the governor’s desk.
On Thursday, the Senate took that next step and attached a clause to the bill that allowed it to take effect immediately upon the governor signing it. Both branches then took the final procedural votes and Gov. Charlie Baker signed the reauthorization into law around 1:30 p.m.
“We’re very appreciative that the House, the Senate and the governor were able to address this quickly and we’re looking forward to two great days of racing this weekend,” Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer of Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, told the News Service.
Suffolk Downs is expecting about 15,000 people to come out this weekend for 13 live races on Saturday and another 12 races Sunday. This weekend is the third of three weekends this year during which the Revere/East Boston track will host live racing. Tuttle said the races will go on as planned.
At Plainridge Park Racecourse in Plainville, racing officials canceled Thursday afternoon’s slate of races and worked with the Gaming Commission to reschedule the races for Friday afternoon. Friday’s racing card is now cleared to go ahead.
“We’re thankful to the Legislature, Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and especially the urgent and able attention of our legislative delegation for resolving this issue and allowing for live racing to continue at Plainridge Park on Friday,” Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public affairs and government relations at the track’s parent company Penn Nation Gaming, said.
Asked what happened with the racing and simulcasting bill that led to the Legislature allowing the legal authority to lapse, Senate President Karen Spilka suggested there simply was not enough time to get it done before the July 31 deadline the Legislature set a year ago.
“Just like every single year, we don’t always get to everything,” she said, highlighting two budget amendments of the governor’s that the Senate acted on on Thursday. “There’s still other things so we’re trying to get it all done and finalize it.”
Spilka appeared unaware that the lapse in legislative authority for racing and simulcasting caused the cancelation of races on Thursday, and when informed of that fact said, “Well, maybe they can do them still now that it’s OK.”
In a statement, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, “The House took action today to extend simulcasting, preserving jobs. We look forward to an exciting weekend.”
In previous sessions, various racing interests have advocated for legislation revamping the racing and simulcasting process to grant the Gaming Commission greater power to make decisions about simulcasting and live racing.
Asked about that approach on Thursday, Spilka said the idea “certainly is a strong consideration.”