Two days after it denied a casino license to Suffolk Downs, prompting an announcement by the track that it would shut down, the state gambling commission said Thursday it would explore options to preserve racing in the state.
“The Massachusetts Gaming Commission fully understands and is saddened by the impact discontinuance of live thoroughbred racing at Suffolk Downs will have on the lives of the dedicated men and women who have played a role in racing at the track for many, many years,” the commission said in a statement.
“The Commission and its Racing Division are fully committed to an extensive and sustained exploration of every available option that may preserve the long tradition of thoroughbred racing in the Commonwealth,” the commission said.
Suffolk Downs shot back that the commission’s statement “feels like empty posturing.”
The commission on Tuesday awarded the Greater Boston casino license to international casino giant Wynn Resorts, which plans to build a $1.6 billion casino in Everett. The commission bypassed a proposal by Mohegan Sun to build a casino at a portion of the Suffolk Downs racetrack in Revere.
The track immediately announced that it would shut down racing. On Wednesday, track officials said live racing would end Sept. 29, while simulcasting — watching races on live TV feeds — will end in December.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the loss of the track is “a severe blow to our community.”
“Although it would have been my hope that live racing at Suffolk Downs would continue, the owners have made the decision to close the track,” the speaker said in a statement. “We must prepare to transition to this new reality.”
DeLeo said he will focus on assisting displaced workers.
The commission said in Thursday’s statement that it was “dedicated to assisting racing employees through workforce development and by identifying additional employment solutions.”
Gambling Commissioner James McHugh on Wednesday said the casino panel, which also acts as the state racing commission, “is trying to figure out the answer” to help racing endure but “I don’t have it today.”
The commission said it would address “this important issue” at a meeting next Thursday.
Steps the panel are likely to explore include:
▪ Speaking to executives from Penn National Gaming, the holder of the state’s slot parlor license, about the prospects of running thoroughbred racing. Penn, a national company with vast experience in racing, is building the slot parlor at Plainridge Racecourse, in Plainville, an existing harness racing track.
▪ The commission will also consider a new request from Raynham Park owner George Carney to hold thoroughbred race days next year at Brockton Fairgrounds.
▪ And the panel is likely to examine possible revenue streams that could be tapped to support the industry, in addition to the horse racing development fund created by the casino law to boost race purses.
Chip Tuttle, Suffolk Downs chief operating officer, said in a statement, “This is one of those cases where the Gaming Commission’s actions speak louder than their words. For the family of workers here, this feels like empty posturing.”
“The Commission’s actions Tuesday made clear how little value they place on these jobs and these people. That message, while unfortunate, has been received loud and clear by the hundreds of decent hardworking people here now facing unemployment and uncertainty,” Tuttle said.
On Wednesday, George Brown, the fourth-generation owner of Briar Hill Farm, a Massachusetts thoroughbred farm, said the decision to award the casino to Everett created an uncertain future.
“That’s what everybody was hanging on for,’’ he said of the Mohegan Sun casino bid. “I’ve been hanging off the cliff for so long that my fingernails are just about worn out now.”
Trainer Jay Bernardini said this week he had spent 35 years in the horse racing industry, leading him to wonder whether retraining is a realistic option for him and others.
“When they say they’re going to retrain me or bring me over there after 35 years in the horse business ... what are we going to be trained to do?” he asked.