Spirit of Mass Horse Race

A trotter competes earlier this year in the Spirit of Massachusetts harness race at Plainridge Park in Plainville.

PLAINVILLE — After failing to meet a July 31 deadline, the Legislature on Thursday gave late approval to a bill to reauthorize horse racing in the state.

An impasse between the Senate and House over the routine, non-controversial bill had shut down racing and simulcasting at Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville.

It also threatened weekend racing at Suffolk Downs in Boston.

Gov. Charlie Baker immediately signed the bill, which the Legislature passed on a voice vote during an informal session with few lawmakers present.

The state Gaming Commission, which oversees racing, has given Plainridge permission to conduct harness racing Friday, which was not originally on the Plainridge schedule.

The Friday meet was to make up for missing racing on Thursday. Simulcasting restarted immediately after the bill became law.

State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said the failure to pass the annual re-authorization of racing in a timely fashion was completely unnecessary. He said the bill was held up in the Senate apparently over a political power play.

Legislative leaders should not be playing political games with people’s livelihood, he said.

“This is why people hate politicians,” he said.

Dooley said the House gave initial approval to the bill eight days before the legislative session was scheduled to expire on July 31.

The Senate, however, waited until the last hour to give its initial approval, called engrossment.

The House then put an emergency preamble on the bill so it would take effect immediately, but the Senate let the legislative session expire before concurring, Dooley said.

The inaction had the effect of making horse racing illegal in Massachusetts for more than a day and forced Plainridge to close its simulcasting operation and cancel racing for Thursday.

In informal session, the Senate finally approved the emergency preamble, then both chambers gave final approval, called enactment.

Although Dooley, whose district includes Plainridge, was angry about the gamesmanship, the owners of Plainridge were more conciliatory.

“We’re thankful to the Legislature, Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and especially the urgent and able attention of our legislative delegation for resolving this issue and allowing for live racing to continue at Plainridge Park on Friday,” Eric Schippers of Penn National Gaming said in a prepared statement.

Dooley said the back-and-forth over the re-authorization happens every year and could be avoided.

He suggested that either the bill be passed in March, when there is no threat of a deadline, or the Legislature pass a three-year authorization.

Jim Hand may be reached at 508-236-0399 or jhand@thesunchronicle.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TSCpolitics.

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