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Baker signs bill, ending inadvertent statewide ban on horse racing

Governor Charlie Baker.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

After inadvertently allowing horse racing and simulcasting to become illegal, the Massachusetts Legislature rushed a bill to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk on Thursday afternoon allowing the state’s three racetracks to begin operating again.

Baker signed the legislation roughly 30 minutes after the House and Senate cleared it during an informal session. Lawmakers affixed an emergency preamble to the bill, allowing it to take effect immediately with Baker’s signature.

The Legislature regularly passes legislation extending the authorization for racing and simulcasting, and both House and Senate passed a bill late Tuesday night as lawmakers rushed to wrap up their formal session.

But in their late-night flurry of lawmaking, legislators never took a final step to send it to Baker before the session ended, temporarily outlawing racing and simulcasting and forcing the state’s racetracks — Suffolk Downs, Raynham Park, and Plainridge Park — to close.

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It lasted about 37 hours. The newly signed law allows the tracks to operate until July 31, 2019.

“I am pleased we were able to find a resolution to this issue, and ensure that the hundreds of people who depend on simulcasting for their jobs will be able to return to work this week,” Senate President Karen E. Spilka said in a statement.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said the new law will preserve jobs. “We look forward to an exciting weekend,” he said.

In wake of Tuesday night’s inaction, Plainridge Park had postponed a Thursday afternoon slate of races to Friday.

“We’re thankful to the Legislature, Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and especially the urgent and able attention of our legislative delegation for their assistance in resolving this issue,” said Eric Shippers, a senior vice president for Penn National Gaming, which owns Plainridge.

Suffolk Downs has live racing scheduled for this weekend, each with more than $500,000 in purses, its chief operating officer, Chip Tuttle, has told the Globe. Tuttle said the facility lost a day-plus of simulcasting because of the delayed bill, but he thanked lawmakers and Baker for moving quickly Thursday.

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“Especially for our employees,” he said, “who were facing the prospect of not being able to come to work for a while. It’s a big relief.”

Meanwhile, the Legislature checked another item off its informal session to-do list, voting to send an animal welfare bill to Baker’s desk.

The multifaceted bill, which makes drowning an animal a criminal act punishable by up to seven years in prison, was among those that didn’t get a final vote Tuesday night. It had unanimously cleared both branches with little to no discussion.

Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout