Massachusetts tap dances around legal racing

Dec 18, 2000 8:24 PM

Ho, Ho, Ho!

You must have a sense of humor to enjoy what’s happening to the Massachusetts racetracks.

The tracks had a chance last year to get together and join in legislation that virtually assured approval by the State Legislature. The Legislature had already appointed a "Blue Ribbon Commission" to make recommendations, pending approval of the tracks.

The commission made some recommendations the dog tracks liked, some the horse track liked, and some, that whoever happened to own the only state harness track liked. The bottom line was, if the tracks could all agree, the leadership would whip the final bill through the Legislature.

Well, as the old time horseplayers might say, "Nobody agreed on nothing."

But surely, the tracks thought, there would at least be business as usual and next year would be time to try again.

The legislative leadership was in no hurry because they were going to wait and see how the initiative to ban greyhound racing would come out. That initiative was on the ballot on Election Day and, as it turned out, was as close as a ballot race can be (well, almost!) with the greyhound racing being saved by a nose, 51 percent to 49 percent.

OK, so far. But Massachusetts has always had a custom of an "informal legislative session," about as dumb a system as imaginable, in which the leaders can whip bills through between now and the end of the year without any "formal legislative session." Just as long as nobody with a vote in the Legislature complains too strongly, anything can be passed, the public be damned.

The tracks figured that if, just like last time, the formal session ended without a bill, they’d at least be able to go ahead and continue business as usual. The leadership would just pass "informally" the bill allowing simulcasting.

Well, ho, ho, ho, it’s not working that way. At least not so far.

It seems the anti-greyhound lobby, which barely lost in the election, is hanging around longer than Al Gore. They are convincing legislators not to let the leadership go along with the simulcasting in this pseudo "informal session."

As things stand now, when the horns bring in the New Year, the simulcasting is dead.

Suffolk Downs and the dog tracks can still run their live cards, but fans who come to the track looking to bet on races not run at that particular track will be out of luck. At least until they figure out that Connecticut has everything.

The tracks are yelling that this will cost people jobs. A cynic would say, "Baloney, the out-of-work people can become bus drivers to take the fans to Connecticut." Unofficially, more people are employed as drivers to Connecticut than work at Wonderland already. And maybe even Suffolk!

One less person working at Suffolk in any event, is Vice President of Racing Lou Rafette. He is heading to Maryland to become chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club.

When history writes Raffetto’s legacy at Suffolk, it will either be, "He helped save the track from extinction," or "He helped bring about it’s demise."

The politicians, the combined track owners, and you, my readers, will ultimately decide which it is.

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To Make A Buck:

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"My fiancée had a birthday", he says.

Onward to victory!