Spirit of Mass Horse Race

A trotter competes in the Spirit of Massachusetts harness race at Plainridge Park in Plainville in 2017.

PLAINVILLE — The agency overseeing the state’s evolving gambling industry is doing a generally good job, but it needs better collaboration on issues facing horse racing, including Plainridge on Route 1.

That was the conclusion of a report issued Thursday by State Auditor Suzanne Bump.

She said “no defficincies were found” in the examination of records of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission from July 1, 2018 through March 31, 2020 in its monitoring of problem gamblers and individuals listed on gaming exclusion lists.

The commission administers both voluntary and non-voluntary gambling exclusion lists that prohibit the individuals on those lists from playing at the state’s casinos. There were 648 people on the voluntary list and 31 on the non-voluntary list.

However, the auditor said in a statement that the commission needed to improve its administration of the Race Horse Development Fund, which the helps pay for benefits for race industry workers.

“Through recent expansions of casino gambling and the closure of Suffolk Downs race track in 2019, the Commonwealth’s gaming and horse racing industries have changed,” the auditor said.

With the closing of Suffolk, there are no more thoroughbred races run in Massachusetts. That means, the auditor said, under a state law that says the funds can only be used for races held in the state, the fund has an unspent balance of more than $16.8 million.

“While MGC has done a noteworthy job managing the state’s emerging gaming industry, our audit makes clear the commission should bring all relevant stakeholders to the table to consider the Race Horse Development Fund’s most effective use,” Bump said. “This consultation and collaborative effort would enhance oversight of the fund, and would benefit breeders, owners, and the industry as a whole.”

She’s urging the commission to consult with horse breeders and state officials on how the funds can be better used.

In response, the gaming commission noted it has worked with breeders to make adjustments to the split between thoroughbred racers and standardbred racing — the harness racing that takes place at Plainridge — to limit the accumulating balance in the fund. In the current fiscal year, the split is 92 percent standardbred and 8 percent thoroughbred.

The gaming commission is trying to change legislation on the use of the racehorse development fund.

“The MGC has filed legislation in the past that is relevant to this issue and we understand that there are currently bills under consideration in the Legislature, including an omnibus package. We stand ready to work with the Legislature on this issue,” the commission said in a statement.

Tom Reilly can be reached at 508-236-0332 or treilly@thesunchronicle.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tomreillynews.

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