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Another missed deadline in Boston gives racing a scare (Editorial)

Mass Live

The Republican Editorials

August 2, 2019

What the Massachusetts Legislature needs most of all, it seems, is Mom.

You know, the old-fashioned boss of the household, telling the kids to pick up their clothes or get ready to catch the school bus on time. If Dad is doing these jobs in our modern times, send him to Boston, too.

Maybe they could nag the Legislature into doing its work in a timely fashion. Nothing else seems to be working.

This space has said it before, but at risk of sounding like a broken record, here it is: deadlines matter, or at least, they should.

Not only has the Legislature turned the June 30 deadline for a budget into a joke - missing it for four years and a row, and now using up almost all of July to get it done - but more basic work is late, too. One example came when the deadline to extend the statutory authorization for horse racing and simulcast wagering was missed for the second straight year.

This might not seem like much. Governor Charlie Baker signed the extension bill at 9:31 a.m., on August 1. The compromise measure doesn’t address bigger issues about racing’s future, but it does keep jobs and schedules in place for another year.

The signing came little more than nine hours after the midnight deadline, and racing at Plainridge Park in Plainville went off as planned. Anticipation of Baker’s signature caused the Gaming Commission to avoid telling racing outlets that they had to cease activity.

Employees were not told not to show up for work. In 2018, the deadline was missed by 36 hours. So is 2019 an improvement?

Not really. The delay was more than just procedural; the House and Senate do not agree on the larger issue of how racing and simulcasting should be treated in a changing gaming environment.

This is causing anxiety in the racing industry, which frets over its future and wants customers to know it is not on the way out. Plainridge’s harness track is the only live horse racing venue in Massachusetts, but simulcasting allows for wagering in other locations.

Suffolk Downs closed in June, removing the last live thoroughbred racing from Massachusetts. Senate legislators have proposed taking millions of dollars from casino profits from the Race Horse Development Fund (RHDF), which was created to support live racing and breeding, and use it for education funding.

Breeders and others in the racing industry say breeders rely on the eight-year-old RHDF, and need help with expenses including medication and insurance. They also say it’s not too late to rebuild the thoroughbred racing industry. One possibility may be the Western Massachusetts site of Great Barrington Fairgrounds, whose racing history goes back to 1859 but ended in 1983, with a brief comeback in the late 1990s.

As for racing in Plainridge or at simulcasting sites, legislators were told on July 11 that if the extension wasn’t passed by midnight on July 31, workers would have to be called and told not to report to work on Aug. 1. Baker’s signature came before that happened, but why must employees even be put through that uncertainty?

What to do with racing in Massachusetts is worth serious examination, more so now that no thoroughbred racing exists in the state. Extending the racing and simulcasting bill, though, should have been done on time - at least for the sake of employees whose jobs hinged on it. Maybe Mom or Dad can get legislators to act in a timely fashion that respects clear deadlines, for nothing else is working.

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