In the two years since New England’s last Thoroughbred track, Suffolk Downs, closed, there have been repeated attempts to bring racing back. These attempts are not, obviously, about reigniting a profitable business. That ship has sailed. Rather, it’s a simple money grab.
When the Mass legislature approved casinos ten years ago, it also created the “Race Horse Development Fund” – to be funded by those new casinos. This money, which should have gone back to the state for education, was supposed to revitalize a dying horseracing industry. It didn’t – Suffolk Downs still failed – and it won’t. Still, there is currently some $20 million sitting in this fund waiting for the horse people to insert their grubby hands. Hence the new-track proposals in Great Barrington, Wareham, Rowley, and, most recently, Sturbridge. For the developers in Sturbridge, the proposed track was also attached to a lucrative sports-betting (betting on real sports involving autonomous human beings) license if and when the legislature legalizes that.
Having previously worked with advocates in Great Barrington and Wareham, HW took an active, leading role in fighting the Sturbridge plan. In addition to sending out 4,500 full-page inserts (below) in the Sturbridge Villager and providing hundreds of materials for activists to disseminate around town, Nicole and I attended a planning-board meeting in September and the town vote Thursday night. We, along with a host of other advocates, were there to greet residents – with the facts, the truth about horseracing – as they arrived to cast their ballots. And, I write happily and proudly, we succeeded, the measure, in the words of the town administrator, “defeated soundly.”
Because these gifts are still dangling – something we intend to address at the state level – it’s likely the racing people will move on to another Mass town. But know this, we will meet them every step of the way, fighting for the innocent and voiceless.