The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve spending $2.4 million to support six days of horse racing at Suffolk Downs this summer.
The money will allow the East Boston racetrack to pay for purses, the cash prizes paid to a winning horse’s owner, trainer, and jockey. The once-famous track closed as a full-time live racing venue in 2014 after losing out on a casino license, but remains open for simulcasting.
“In order to be competitive and get horses over here to run when we’re only open for a short week, we have to have purse levels that are attractive enough to incentivize people,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs.
While track owners consider a different use for the 160-acre property, they will hold three two-day racing cards this summer — July 9-10, Aug. 6-7, and Sept. 3-4.
Under the state’s 2011 casino law, a portion of gambling revenue and licensing fees paid by casino developers are set aside in a fund to support the languishing horse racing industry, a provision pushed for by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whose legislative district is home to Suffolk Downs.
If the commission had not approved the purse money, the track would probably have held fewer summer races, Tuttle said.
“The purses allow us to reward some of the local horsemen who have stuck with us through difficult times,” Tuttle said. “It also allows us to attract some of the top stables from the East Coast to ship in for our racing festivals.”
None of the money approved by the commission will pay for operational costs, Tuttle said.
Gaming Commission member Gayle Cameron said the three days of racing at Suffolk Downs last summer were very successful, and she was hopeful for a similar turnout this year.
On a per-day basis, Suffolk Downs received a similar amount from the racing fund last year, Cameron said.
While six days of racing are a far cry from the track’s heyday, when it held daily racing five months a year, Tuttle said at least some racing will continue as long as the track remains.
After a 15-year hiatus, thoroughbred horse racing will also return this summer to the Brockton Fairgrounds with a planned schedule of 30 racing days. Track owners had hoped the fairgrounds would become home to a $677 million casino and hotel complex, but the commission voted down the project in April.