Legislators: Horse Racing and Simulcasting Safe for a Year

Lawmakers in Massachusetts passed Monday the bill that would place horse racing and simulcasting in the state on solid legal ground, at least until July 31, 2021, provided that H4817 that got to the St.Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk gets his approval Tuesday. Otherwise, both horse racing and simulcast wagering in the state will become illegal Wednesday.

Kicking the Tin Down the Road

The practice of one year extensions for the racing and simulcasting laws has been running for a while, with the last extension that took effect in January and made activities legal until July 1 supposedly being the last in the series. By that time a group of lawmakers stated they were working on a draft legislation to restructure regulation regarding horse racing and simulcasting.

The two co-chairs of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, Sen. Paul Feeney and Rep. Tackey Chan pointed out they were working on a bill to stop the state legislature from dancing with extensions every few months. The bill that would supposedly create a system of licensure and oversight of both activities, with respect to current and future environment, was not ready back then, prompting another extension to take place.

Sen. Feeney outlined the bill was progressing as planned, hoping to put it before the committee members soon, but also stated that it would take time to move such a comprehensive bill through the legislature during times with other priorities like the ongoing health crisis. Therefore, the senator backed the idea for another extension.

H4817, besides legalizing horse racing and simulcasting for another year, includes language to allow Suffolk Downs racetrack to hold onto its simulcasting license for the duration of the extension, contrary to the intentions of the racetrack which ran its last live horse race last June and has no future plans regarding holding live horse races.

Racetracks and Simulcasting Centres Still Closed

The live horse racing season in Massachusetts has been limited to harness racing at Plainridge Park Casino, but was halted mid-March as casinos in the state closed down to prevent the further spread of the virus infection and have not re-opened ever since. The Plainville oval and the other simulcast centres in the state, Suffolk Downs and Raynham, will remain closed until at least July 6.

Historically, state lawmakers have missed the deadline for extension twice, but if H4817 is not approved on time, the economic impact from a possible failure to extend would not be that great this time. A lapse, though, would have spelled the end, albeit temporary, to the deposit wagering which is already at an advanced stage. Placing bets over the phone or from a pre-funded account was even allowed to continue during the period of lockdowns.

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