The operators of the Raynham Park dog track and Suffolk Downs horse track held on to their simulcast businesses long after their live races ended, with the hope they could someday land a coveted casino license.
That never happened. But now those two businesses have what could be the next best thing: sports betting.
In the waning hours of the Legislature’s formal sessions last week, lawmakers finally reached a deal to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts. The measure, following years of industry lobbying, effectively allows for only two brick-and-mortar locations, aside from the state’s three casinos. Those two brick-and-mortar licenses go to the race track owners: the Carney family, which owns the simulcasting operation at the former greyhound track at Raynham Park, and Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which still accepts simulcasting bets in the old clubhouse at the Suffolk Downs thoroughbred track on the East Boston-Revere line.
“We hung in there,” said Chris Carney, who runs Raynham with his father, George. “Fortunately, the Legislature put us in a great position. There are only five bricks-and-mortars and we are one of them.”
In the case of Raynham, the foundation for a new sports-betting facility is already in the ground, with an opening anticipated in 2023. Suffolk Downs, meanwhile, is being redeveloped into a massive mixed-use project, and SSR’s license would allow it to open a sports facility anywhere in Boston or Revere.
“We do think a stand-alone simulcast and sports book facility will be a popular draw,” said Chip Tuttle, SSR’s chief operating officer. “SSR is very excited about the way the legislation turned out and is looking forward to what’s next.”
Both operators have been fielding calls from the big sports-book companies to team up, a list that includes the likes of Boston-based DraftKings, FanDuel, and casino-affiliated operations such as Caesars and BetMGM. The sports-book parlors probably would be similar in size: Carney is planning on a 30,000-square-foot facility, enough to accommodate more than 2,000 people, while SSR has told state lawmakers it envisions a stand-alone 25,000-square-foot sports-betting center. The sports-betting licenses would require them to each invest at least $7.5 million in capital improvements over the next three years.
There is one key difference. Unlike Sterling Suffolk, the Carneys know where they will open: next door to their existing facility. Much of the family’s sprawling, 100-plus-acre track site, about 30 miles south of Boston, is slated to be redeveloped for warehouses. But the Carneys are retaining 13 acres for the new sports-betting center. If the Massachusetts Gaming Commission approves regulations and opens up sports betting before the new building is complete, Carney said his family would temporarily handle sports bets in its existing simulcasting facility, which will eventually be torn down.
Carney said he expects to invest $24 million in the building, including at least $1 million on big-screen TVs alone, and to employ hundreds of people, with a goal of being open in time for next year’s Super Bowl. Live racing ended at the track in late 2009 after Massachusetts voters banned dog racing. At its peak in the 1980s, as many as 1,200 people worked at the track, he said. Now, about 120 people do.
Carney says he plans a unique venue, unlike the sports-betting areas in casinos.
“It’s not going to be like you walk through a casino to a sports book,” Carney said. “You’re going to be in the sports book.”
SSR, meanwhile, still needs a location. The venture — a partnership that includes businessmen Joe O’Donnell and Richard Fields, as well as New York-based landowner Vornado Realty Trust — ended live racing in 2019, two years after they sold Suffolk Downs to developer The HYM Investment Group in the wake of losing out on the Boston-area casino license to Wynn Resorts.
Since then, SSR tried to open a horse track in Great Barrington, but shelved the idea amid local resistance. (Fields also has been trying to team up with thoroughbred breeder Armand Janjigian, separately from SSR, to pursue plans to open a new horse track in Massachusetts, which may allow them to offer sports betting as well.) It’s possible the SSR group may negotiate with HYM for a spot in the redeveloped Suffolk Downs, or consider other locations in Revere or Boston.