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New state gaming commission tours Boston racetrack

Officials at Suffolk Downs, which has announced its hope to build a resort casino in East Boston and Revere, showcased their racing operations to the new state board.

As with the sport of horse racing, Suffolk Downs has been through some changes and is well beyond its glory days.

The stands and outdoor picnic tables at the 77-year-old track in East Boston and Revere were sparsely filled Wednesday, mostly with elderly couples. Blue trash barrels were set up under water-stained drop ceiling tiles in one area of a concourse. And, walking up to the club entrance Wednesday afternoon, one couldn’t help but hear a woman jump out of an idling car and shout "I want to cash in my ring. I'm never going to wear it," to a man standing nearby.

The facility was viewed by the five members of the newly formed Massachusetts Gaming Commission Wednesday who were led on a tour of the track by Suffolk Downs CEO Chip Tuttle.

The commissioners have toured all three of the state’s racetracks after the board assumed regulatory authority over the horse racing industry.

Wednesday, the message from track officials seemed to be that they were doing the best they can with what they have and that the facility could be a gem again.

While the atmosphere was a stark contrast to the $1 billion glass resort casino and horse racing facility that was proposed for the site earlier this year by Caesars Entertainment and Suffolk Downs, commission chairman Stephen Crosby said it was a "great facility."

"It's a wonderful place to soak up the atmosphere, never mind the horse racing," said Crosby, who had visited the facility before Wednesday’s tour, but not for years.

While Tuttle told the commissioners about the generations of employees who have worked to maintain the facility and the track’s safety accreditation, he also said the facility has changed as the popularity of horse racing has decreased.

He said that while the facility’s weekday crowds are older and smaller, the weekend crowd picks up.

"On Saturday it looks a little more like a game at Fenway Park. The crowd is a little younger, there are more females and it’s more family-oriented," Tuttle said.

Wednesday’s tour was not meant to pitch the commission on the casino plans, but to give them a better understanding about current racing operations.

However, the topic of casino gambling could not be avoided.

"As casino gaming has gone from two states – Nevada and New Jersey – 25 years ago to 39 states, it has had a negative effect on horse racing," Tuttle said.

 
 
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