Racing Ends at Suffolk Downs, Historic Track Closes Week After Encore Boston Harbor Launch

Posted on: July 2, 2019, 04:05h. 

Last updated on: July 2, 2019, 04:05h.

Suffolk Downs has run its last race. The historic East Boston racetrack’s closure on Sunday after 84 years puts an end to thoroughbred racing not only in Massachusetts but also the whole of New England.

Suffolk Downs
Many who earned their living in the Massachusetts horse racing industry still feel bitterness towards the MGC over the awarding of the Boston gaming license to Wynn Resorts. Suffolk Downs has been on life support ever since. (Image: Chris Christo/Boston Herald)

On Monday morning, the diggers moved in — although simulcast racing will continue in the main building until further notice.

The timing of the closure — one week after the glitzy $2.6 billion Encore Boston Harbor opened its doors five miles away in Everett — will rub salt into the wounds of those impacted — the hundreds of breeders, owners, farriers, and others, who make their living from the Massachusetts horse-racing industry.

Betrayed by the Gaming Commission?

The awarding of the east Massachusetts casino license to Wynn Resorts in 2014 over Mohegan Sun was the final nail in the coffin for Suffolk Downs.

Mohegan went heads up against Wynn with a proposed resort that would have been built on land owned by the racetrack, which pledged to continue racing for at least 15 years should Mohegan win the bid.

But the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) voted 3:1 against Mohegan, deciding that the Wynn proposal offered better potential to create jobs and new avenues of revenue for the state.

The horse-racing industry felt betrayed by the MGC because it had been instrumental in getting the question of legalizing casinos on the ballot in 2013.

Many residents thought they had been voting to save the racing when they approved the amendment — although Massachusetts’ only harness racing track, Plainridge Park, was permitted to launch a slots parlor following the amendment.

“We’re losing thousands of people who make their living from this sport,” Anthony Spadea Jr., President of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, told Bloodhorse on Sunday. “There’s been no major interest taken by any politician to help.”

“This industry should have been preserved as part of the landscape, and especially part of the open space in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” he added. “It would have been nice to get help from the governor and the legislators to get that type of help.”

$3 Billion Lawsuit

Suffolk Downs opened in 1935, shortly after the state legalized parimutuel betting. In 1937, Seabiscuit broke the track record when he won the Massachusetts Handicap there, a race attended by 40,000 people.

But interest in horse racing has dwindled nationwide and numbers like that are a thing of the distant past.

Owner Sterling Suffolk Racecourse sold the racetrack for real-estate development months after Mohegan lost the license but was permitted by the developer to retain the racing and simulcast operation on a temporary basis until work began.

Meanwhile, Sterling Suffolk has launched a $3 billion lawsuit against Wynn Resorts, alleging the company “conspired to fix” the licensing bid through “fraud, kickbacks [and] political cronyism.”

Wynn Resorts says the lawsuit is frivolous and has filed a motion to dismiss.