As the Legislature raced toward the end of its session Tuesday night, Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs, was focused on the fate of one bill in particular — a measure to keep live horse racing and simulcasting legal in Massachusetts.
The bill was seen as procedural, and seemed a safe bet to pass. If lawmakers got to it in time. As the night wore on, Tuttle dozed off, but awoke to several text messages. He knew something was wrong. In its last-minute rush, the Legislature apparently dozed off as well, failing to take action on the bill before adjourning. As a result, horse racing and simulcasting became illegal overnight, at least temporarily.
On Wednesday, Suffolk Downs, Raynham Park, and Plainridge Park were all closed over the lapse, angering employees and bettors alike.
“We never take it for granted, but by the same token, we certainly didn’t think we’d get caught in the end-of-session meat grinder,” Tuttle said.
Suffolk Downs has live racing scheduled for the weekend, each with more than $500,000 in purses, Tuttle said. If the Legislature doesn’t reauthorize racing by Thursday, he would be forced to cancel the races, he said. About 13,000 fans are expected to attend over the weekend, he said.
“We’re hoping to put this one on for both the live racing fans who have been showing up in healthy numbers and for the hardworking horsemen and women, when this is one of their limited opportunities to earn purse money and earn their livelihoods,” Tuttle said.
Senate president Karen E. Spilka said Wednesday that legislative leaders were working to find a resolution. “I understand the serious nature of the issue here and we’re working closely with the House,” she said.
Edward Bedrosian, executive director of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, sent a letter Wednesday to racetracks owners to inform them of the situation. He said the commission will discuss the issue at a meeting Thursday in Springfield.
Tuttle said Suffolk Downs could lose $500,000 in revenue if the weekend races are cancelled, and more than 200 employees would lose their shifts. With half the entrants in the races hailing from Massachusetts, local breeders and jockeys would miss their chance at the purses.
“All of these policy decisions have human costs and consequences,” Tuttle said. “We’ve got a lot of employees that live week-to-week and paycheck-to-paycheck, and this a significant impact.”
Globe correspondent Matt Stout contributed to this report. Thomas Oide can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.