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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Suffolk Downs holds last day of races

A+horse+in+one+of+the+last+races+at+Suffolk+Downs
A horse in one of the last races at Suffolk Downs

When you think of the most beloved, legendary sports venues in Boston, Suffolk Downs may not come to mind immediately. It doesn’t have the hundred-year history of Fenway Park or Harvard Stadium. Stanley Cups and NBA Titles were not clinched on the track like at the Boston Garden, but you’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t consider the famous racetrack one of the city’s gems. Horse racing has not been exceptionally popular in the city for years, but the Downs still draws big crowds on occasion, especially during the Spring– horse racing’s busy season.
Unfortunately, recent hard times for the sport, coupled with a crushing loss in an East Boston vote to open a casino, have put the track on life support. The last scheduled horse race at the Downs was run on Oct. 3, and although there is a massive effort underway to preserve racing in East Boston, the track’s future is in doubt.
The saga all started when the Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act was signed into law in November of 2011. The law allowed for communities to submit bids for one of three licenses for destination casinos, and one of those bids was submitted by Suffolk Downs after they partnered with the Caesers Entertainment Corporation. When concerns were raised about the corporation’s financial status, Caesers was dropped from the bid, and Suffolk Downs carried on with their own plan.
East Boston voters rejected the plan on Nov. 5, 2013, and for the already struggling track, it was a difficult blow. After regrouping and searching for other options, the track decided to partner with Mohegan Sun and attempt to build a resort on 42 of Suffolk Downs’ acres in Revere. The proposed $1.3 billion project was approved by Revere voters this past January with 63 percent of the vote, and it seemed as though the track was saved, but it was around that time that casino-magnate Steve Wynn first placed his bid for a massive, 27-floor resort in Everett. After voters approved the Wynn plan, the Massachusetts Gambling Commission elected to give it the green-light over the Suffolk Downs plan.
For Political Science Professor, Maurice Cunningham, it is self-evident as to why the Wynn project won out in the end.
“Losing Caesars as a partner and the East Boston vote were terribly damaging politically,” Cunningham said.
“As a partner, Mohegan Sun simply couldn’t match Wynn, so the commission determined that Wynn was the better bid for the state. I’m sure that was a vote on the merits.”
For Suffolk Downs, losing the bid was very disappointing. Chief Operating Officer, Chip Tuttle, said, “It’s very, very likely the end of a 79-year legacy of racing here, thousands of jobs. It’s extraordinarily unfortunate that the first result of this action will be the loss of a thousands jobs in the commonwealth,” in a statement given to MassLive.com.
There are efforts underway now to save the track and maintain the tradition of horse racing in New England, but there are no more events scheduled and, seeing as the track has been operating in the red since 2006, it is financially unlikely that the track will remain in operations.
Cunningham has a bleak outlook for the 82 year-old track.
“I don’t see racing coming back. In truth, it is an industry in deep trouble. It simply can’t survive in many places, certainly not without the boost of casino revenues.”
He added, “That is really sad because Suffolk Downs employs so many people who love their livelihoods and aren’t likely to find work and community in any other setting.”
For Cunningham and countless other lifelong Massachusetts residents, it is sad to see such a historic venue come to a close, especially what was— for a long time— the only legal gambling establishment in Boston.
“Think about the great horses that ran there,” Cunningham said, “including Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Cigar. The Massachusetts Handicap was a huge event and when racing was big large crowds would attend […] it was quite a scene.”
“Massachusetts will lose a valuable piece of its history. Racing was not only entertainment but, as opposed to pulling on a slot machine arm, handicapping requires study and skill to do well.”
There are still plans in the works to save the track and bring in casino revenues, but most reporters believe that the track has seen its last race. For updates, you can visit SuffolkDowns.com.