The Massachusetts Gaming Commission gave its approval Thursday to the sale of the Suffolk Downs horse track in Revere and East Boston, the state's only Thoroughbred race track, though the current owner has pledged to continue racing at least through next year.
The Gaming Commission unanimously approved the sale of the 161-acre property from Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, LLC to the McClellan Highway Development Company, LCC, managed by an affiliate of Boston-based The HYM Investment Group. The transaction is expected to close on April 27, representatives of the seller said, and the sale price will not be disclosed until then.
"The purchaser has no interest in live racing and will not continue live racing at the property," Gaming Commission General Counsel Catherine Blue said. "The transfer will have an impact on racing in the commonwealth in that it will result in the closure of the only Thoroughbred track in the commonwealth at this time."
Developers had eyed Suffolk Downs as the potential site of a casino, but East Boston voters rejected the idea and Everett subsequently prevailed over Revere and was chosen to host a casino, which is under construction. The Suffolk Downs site will likely be redeveloped.
Under the terms of the sale, the buyer will lease the areas of the property necessary for horse racing back to Sterling Suffolk Racecourse for $20,000 a month through at least Jan. 31, 2018, according to Sterling Suffolk's lawyer.
That lease will allow Sterling Suffolk to hold the six days of live racing it has scheduled for 2017, and the terms of the sale also call for the parties to determine by Sept. 25 whether the new owner's development plans will allow for live racing at Suffolk Downs in 2018.
Chip Tuttle, CEO of Suffolk, said his organization will retain responsibility for property maintenance at Suffolk Downs and has taken steps to protect the integrity of live racing at the track by excluding the new owner from becoming involved in certain racing operations.
"In addition to us continuing to have the same access to the property, control of the property, we've actually restricted the landlord from access to sensitive areas such as the money room and other areas that might affect the integrity of racing," Tuttle said. "We've tried to look ahead and see what concerns the commission might have proactively and address those in the lease."
The Thoroughbred horse racing industry has been on the decline in Massachusetts since at least 2001, when there were 1,526 races over 179 racing days in the state. In 2015, Massachusetts hosted 36 races across three racing days — a 98 percent decline in both number of races and racing days, according to The Jockey Club, which works to promote Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States.
Suffolk Downs, the state's busiest and most well-known horse track, ceased regular live racing in October 2014. The track hosted the state's only three days of live racing in 2015, hosted six total race days in 2016 and has six race days scheduled for 2017.
In 2014, the Gaming Commission awarded the sole Boston-area casino license to Wynn, which is now in the process of building a $2.1 billion resort casino on the banks of the Mystic River in Everett. In approving the Wynn license, the commission spurned a plan to build a Mohegan Sun casino on the Suffolk Downs grounds.