Suffolk Casino Ditches Horse Industry—What Now, Robert DeLeo?

Horseshit in the Legislature, take 2.

One of the harshest things I’ve ever written, it turns out, understated the enormity of the awfulness I was trying to describe.

That was back in late 2011, when Beacon Hill was in the final throes of birthing the gaming law, and the bill emerged from conference committee with an extra enormous permanent funnel of money to the horse racing industry, essentially just because Robert DeLeo really, really likes the horse racing industry and the Speaker gets to do what he wants because the House is overrun with—to quote myself from that old post—”spineless, pathetic, delusional representatives.”

In total, the law set up conduits from the casino revenues to the horse racing industry worth an estimated $18 million a year, mostly in the form of purse funds to Suffolk Downs. That’s money coming out of the state’s take—$18 million that could otherwise be going to schools, police, social workers, transportation, you name it. But DeLeo, as I said, really likes the horse racing industry. As I put it back then:

It sure looks, to everybody, like the entire legislature… has been held hostage for the past two or three years, until they all agree to back a truck full of cash up to the doors of a small number of the Speaker’s friends.

So that’s what happened, and DeLeo looked upon the local horse racing industry he had saved, and saw he that it was good.

Until, you know, the Suffolk Downs people thought that having the race track might cost them their chance at the casino, at which point they immediately offered to throw it all in the garbage.

Soooo…nicely bargained there, Bobby.

This is what happens when politicians trust developers too much. It happened to Menino all the time—and he could never understand why, in the end, those developers would leave those huge swaths of asphalt on the South Boston waterfront, or a big oops sorry sign at Columbus Center, or a gaping hole in Downtown Crossing. (Hey Mayor Walsh: please clip and save!)

It turns out that the Suffolk Downs developers were actually, just maybe, trying to get as much money as they could out of the gaming bill, and didn’t really care about all the horse breeders and trainers and groomsmen like DeLeo does.

It seems to me that we now need to decide what to do about our statutory commitment to “shoveling mountains of state gelt on the horse tracks,” to again quote myself.

It’s now likely that, one way or the other, the state will be paying millions and millions of dollars to people who just offered to shut down the industry that we are paying them to keep in business. That seems kind of icky, doesn’t it?

Maybe—I don’t know, I’m just throwing this out there—maybe we could take Suffolk Downs’ annual share of that purse fund and add it instead to budget line item 4800-0015.

That would bring the annual budget for Clinical Support Services and Operations at the Department of Children and Families up near the 2009 funding level of $86.5 million before we decided to do DCF case oversight on the cheap at the risk of having a bunch of children harmed and killed.

Just a thought, Mr. Speaker.

  • Peter Goldberg

    The author misses much of the point of the Gaming Legislation. The Gaming Act does not provide any money for Suffolk Downs or for any particular racetrack or developer. The Race Horse Development Fund (RHDF) as established by the Gaming Legislation provides that a very small portion of the gaming revenues shall be divided bewteen the Standardbred Industry & the Thoroughbred Industry in Massachusetts. The funds will be paid ultimately to the horsemen and horsewomen of Massachusetts who have worked tirelessly (for many of them) for their entire lifetimes to eek out a meager living. This meager living has been continuously eroded since the government has gotten into the gambling business. The Lottery & internet gaming has nearly destroyed horseracing in Massachusetts and now casino gambling would complete the destruction of the industry but for the small amounts to be earmarked for the horsemen through the RHDF. The RHDF will only be getting one half of one percent of the class 1 casino revenues! Then this one half one percent will be divided bewteen two industries, the Standardbreds and the Thoroughbreds. The developers and the Commonwealth will get the rest. If the Commonwealth needs more money as Berstein claims…it should be taken from the developers or the casinos, not the horsemen!

  • ProPeople

    It’s almost impossible to believe but the Mass legislature, especially the House and especially the Speaker DeLeo, is looking more and more like congress. Minimum wage hike to help people, children out of poverty? Well, not yet. Index min wage so those working poor can stop continually falling behind? Nah. Can we somehow screw unemployed people but give business the gift of “business friendly” changes to unemployment? You bet.
    And now this. Can we cut local aid, education, human services, law & public safety, environment and other spending? No problem. Should we give the well-connected owners of a race track $18,000,000 a year? Oh yea.
    And it’s hard to know much of what goes on because they meet behind closed doors.
    Way too much power in way too few hands reported by way too few media.