Fairgrounds Owner Pursues Horse Racing After Losing Casino Bid

Thoroughbred horse racing is poised to return to the Brockton Fairgrounds this summer, after Massachusetts regulators rejected a bid to build a casino on the property.

Owner George Carney says the demise of a $677 million resort casino plan by Chicago's Rush Street Gaming hasn't stopped him from moving ahead with improvements to the fairground's track, which hasn't hosted a horse race since 2001.

"I never thought about losing, I always thought about winning," Carney told the Associated Press Wednesday, referring to the state gambling license the casino project failed to acquire. "But these things happen. So 'Plan B' is to bring back horse racing, at least this year."

Race organizers had already received state licenses to run a total of 30 race days on the site this year in anticipation that they would have time to schedule races, at least until the casino project began in earnest.

Now, they're expected to seek about $5 million from the state's horse racing fund to help boost purses and make this year's races more attractive to breeders.

The state's Race Horse Development Fund collects a percentage of all gambling revenues from the state's casinos and designates it to the racing industry.

To date, it has more than $11 million on hand, after raising nearly $21 million in taxes and fees from casino companies and paying out about $9.4 million to the horse racing industry, according to a report from the state Gaming Commission, which oversees the fund.

William Lagorio, president of the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which is organizing the Brockton races, says the competitions are needed to keep the long-flagging industry going until a long term plan can be realized.

Other industry leaders are trying to establish a new racing and equine training facility somewhere in the state after New England's lone remaining thoroughbred track, Boston's Suffolk Downs, stopped offering a full season of races in 2014.

"The horse park is a wonderful idea, but we have hundreds of horsemen and farmers who are starving," Lagorio said earlier this week. "They got put out to pasture. These races in Brockton will be an infusion of capital."

The Brockton proposal is one of at least three seeking support from the state horse racing fund this year.

Plainridge Park, a slots parlor and harness racing track in Plainville, is planning about 115 days of races, but race organizers say it hasn't been determined how much in racing subsidies that will require.

And Suffolk Downs is planning six days of racing spread over July, August and September, following the success of last year's special three-day racing series.

Chip Tuttle, the track's chief operating officer, says organizers will be seeking about $2.6 million. Most of the money, as required under state law, will go toward race purses.

But Suffolk Downs' owners haven't committed to offering races long-term. Tuttle says they're still seeking other development opportunities for the prime slice of real estate.

For his part, Carney holds no grudge against gambling regulators for dashing his hopes for a casino on the property, which his family has owned for about 60 years.

"When one door closes, another one opens," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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