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Wonderland gets approval to transfer simulcast license

By Matt Murphy
State House News Service / December 24, 2010

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The State Racing Commission issued a decision yesterday to allow Wonderland to transfer its simulcasting license for dog racing to nearby Suffolk Downs, in an attempt to allow the former racetrack to raise revenue and pay debts.

Wonderland shut its doors in August on the heels of a voter ban on live dog racing and the collapse of expanded gambling talks on Beacon Hill. When it did, the Revere track owed nearly $2 million in debts to other tracks and vendors.

The 2-1 decision by the State Racing Commission to approve the license transfer was made three weeks after the last public hearing when the commission received assurances from the operators of Suffolk Downs that an untapped market for simulcast greyhound racing remains in Greater Boston.

Wonderland’s license, which expires July 31, will be placed on probation for six months, and the track will be required to provide the commission with a written plan to repay more than $35,000 in debt to Plainridge Racecourse.

Before Wonderland closed for good, Plainridge stopped sending its simulcast signal to the track because Wonderland had failed to pay premiums owed for the right to carry its signal since September 2009.

Plainridge and the Harness Horsemen’s Association of New England filed a formal complaint against Wonderland that led to yesterday’s decision.

Wonderland, according to financial statements submitted to the commission, owes approximately $1.36 million in debts to various tracks, including Plainridge, and another $600,000 to different vendors, including $300,000 to the City of Revere.

Commissioner Terry Segal, the only official to vote against the license transfer, had expressed concern about Wonderland’s ability to repay and requested that the track be required to secure a $300,000 letter of credit as a condition of approval. That was not included in the final ruling.

The language of the decision requires only that Wonderland submit a plan to repay its debts to Plainridge, because no other tracks in Massachusetts or elsewhere have filed formal complaints. Wonderland’s owners have indicated they intend to use the money to repay all the debt.

If Wonderland wants to resume simulcasting races from Plainridge, the commission required that the track make a “good faith written attempt to obtain permission’’ from Plainridge, but said it would not consider it a violation of Wonderland’s probation if that request is denied.

Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, said the East Boston track estimates it could process $250,000 to $500,000 a month in simulcast bets on dog racing, generating between $30,000 and $60,000 a month in revenue for Wonderland that the former track could use to pay off debts.