The Plymouth Select Board voted unanimously to tell the state Gaming Commission that the board and the community oppose a proposed thoroughbred horse racing facility on county-owned land in town.
The Gaming Commission regulates the Massachusetts horse racing industry, which since 2019 has had only one operating track: Standardbred harness racing at Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville.
Before its June 7 vote, the Select Board pointed to the overwhelming local opposition to the plan. A May 21 nonbinding ballot question asked voters if they supported horse racing on what is known as the Plymouth County Woodlot: 88 percent voted no, in a 6,704 to 920 tally.
“The Board wanted to clearly state that it is unanimously opposed to any horse racing and gaming in Plymouth,” Town Manager Derek Brindisi said.
In its letter to the Gaming Commission, the board said it “has no interest in engaging in negotiations for a Host Community Agreement” related to any racing, sports wagering, or casino gaming at the County Wood Lot.
Thomas Mills of the Gaming Commission said he could not comment on the matter because the commission has not received a formal application for a track in Plymouth.
But Boston South Real Estate and Development Group LLC — the company proposing a horse racing facility in Plymouth — said in a letter to Brindisi that it will move forward, and expects to finalize its plan by late September, and in the next one to three years “explore our main concept under the proposal, as well as many other options.
“We hope that during this time, the Select Board and community realize we are legally and morally bound to the commitment we have made to Plymouth County and each of its 27 communities …to consider all economic opportunities for this County asset, which will create long-term revenue streams to benefit the County and its citizens.”
Boston South Real Estate and Development Group has said it wants to build an estimated $500 million racetrack and entertainment center on 110 acres of vacant land off Long Pond Road and Camelot Drive in Plymouth. The property contains an old gravel pit, pinewoods, and walking and dirt bike trails.
The developers describe their plan as a “significant economic and tourism driver for the community.”
The proposal was triggered by the Plymouth County Commissioners’ January 2022 request for proposals for the site. Commissioners said they were looking for additional revenue streams for the county, to avoid having to raise fees at the Registry of Deeds and courts, the county’s main source of income. The county would retain ownership of the land and be paid through a lease agreement.
In March, the commissioners voted to lease the land to Boston South Real Estate and Development group for three years while it developed its plan for the property.
Some opponents of the racetrack plan worry about traffic and the impact on the local water supply, and many say that horse racing is unlikely to succeed in Plymouth, or anywhere in the state.
“Residents don’t think horse racing is a viable economic developer driver, and point to other examples in New England where horse racing was a failing proposition,” Brindisi said. “They are fearful that will happen here.”
Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston, for example, closed in 2019, and is being converted into a mixed development of housing, commercial, and lab space.
Brindisi said the Select Board still wants to work with Boston South, but on “other uses that are more suited to the town.”
Partners in Boston South are Will O’Connell, whose past projects include Granite Links and Marina Bay in Quincy; James Bristol III, who is president of the Bristol Brothers Development Corp. and was involved with O’Connell in the Weymouth Weathervane Golf Club development; financier William Whitfield; and Vincent Gabbert, a lawyer who has worked for a dozen years with Keeneland, a thoroughbred racetrack in Lexington, Ky.
The Plymouth proposal isn’t the first time the horse racing industry has attempted to move into southeastern Massachusetts. In 2021, a proposed track in Wareham that required zoning changes was overwhelmingly defeated at the spring Town Meeting.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.