Senate passes simulcast extension

State House News Service / July 22, 2011

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The state’s two horse racetracks will be allowed to retain simulcasting rights while holding 80 racing dates, rather than the currently required 100, under legislation approved by the state Senate yesterday.

The bill extends the simulcasting law, due to expire July 31, until Jan. 31, 2011. State Senator Anthony Petruccelli, Democrat of East Boston, whose district includes Suffolk Downs, and state Senator Richard Ross, Republican of Wrentham, who represents Plainridge Racecourse, said the bill’s passage is critical to preserving jobs at the racetracks. They also said they looked forward to September’s debate on expanded gambling, which will have major implications for the racetracks.

With fewer race dates, track owners could offer larger purses and make their facilities more attractive to horsemen and patrons, the senators said.

State Senator Patricia Jehlen, Democrat of Somerville, offered an amendment to the bill banning tracks from taking bets on greyhound racing simulcast from other tracks.

Jehlen then withdrew her amendment, but first urged her colleagues to consider it carefully since, she said, a ballot law that shut down two greyhound racetracks in Massachusetts was designed to ban all wagering in greyhound races.

Jehlen said only 16 percent of simulcast revenues are tied to dog races and told her colleagues the issue may resurface during September’s debate on legalizing casinos.

Ross pointed out that the simulcasting law has needed to be renewed many times over the years. “Like a bad penny, it comes up every year, and we have to continually address it,’’ he said.

Most legislators do not have racetracks in or near their districts and exhibit little interest in the regular debates over simulcasting, but the tracks are central to the larger, ongoing debate over expanded gambling, with House Speaker Robert DeLeo continuing to support the idea of allowing racetracks to secure the authority to install slot machines.