As the community discusses the return of horse racing to Great Barrington, Massachusetts State Senator Adam Hinds has removed his name from a bill about opening up regulations on the industry.
Hinds is a Democrat who represents the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden district. He cosponsored Senate Bill 101 when it was introduced in January.
“When we were going through the 6,000 bills that we receive at the beginning of the legislative term, it happened just shortly after we found out through the press that there was interest in horse racing in Great Barrington, and so we had decided that let’s sign on so that we as an office – me, myself – could be kept up to date on a part of the conversation as the legislation moved forward,” Hinds told WAMC.
Suffolk Downs – the company behind the now shuttered track in East Boston – is looking for a new home for its racing operation, with an eye on the Great Barrington fairgrounds, which hasn’t hosted racing in two decades. Senate Bill 101 is one of a number of bills that would open up regulations on the sport across the state. WAMC spoke with company COO Chip Tuttle in August.
“The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has a bill that would allow it to issue different types of licenses, and would allow the resource development fund – which is a fund that was created by the gaming law in Massachusetts," said Tuttle. "There are proceeds from gross gaming revenue from the slot parlor in Plainville, Massachusetts and the two casinos – MGM and Encore – that go into a fund for purses, the Racehorse Development Fund.”
Tuttle did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.
Now, Hinds is backing away from the bill.
In an email to constituents Friday, he cited concerns fielded from district residents “either because they do not support horse racing as an industry, or, because they are concerned with the legislation as it is currently drafted.”
“There are aspects of the bill that we are clearly starting to work on, and I felt like, until we are getting to a point where we have a bill where we are satisfied, I’ll keep my name off of it and take it step by step,” said Hinds.
One town resident who’s been outspoken about her concerns is Leigh Davis, the newest member of the Great Barrington selectboard.
“I found that there was a public hearing that took place on July 1st at the Joint Committee of Consumer Protection and Commercial Licensure, and what surprised me was that we were not represented," said Davis. "No one knew from the town or seemed to know that it had taken place. We weren’t represented, Suffolk Downs was there and from what I can see, they basically told the joint committee that the town was on board with this and things were moving ahead, and this caused me some grave concerns.”
She brought her concerns to the selectboard over the summer, objecting to the idea that a town vote in the 90s could possibly set up a scenario where today’s would be left out of any decision on the return of horse racing. A line in the bill states that “a new local approval under this section shall not be required for thoroughbred and harness horse race tracks that were licensed by the commission or by its predecessor state racing commission for commercial racing under chapter 128A.”
Tuttle told WAMC in August that Suffolk Downs was not circumventing the town.
“Since the second day I showed up in Great Barrington we’ve engaged with the town and tried to have an open dialogue about all this and we fully expect that we’re going to require municipal approvals if this is going to go forward,” said the COO.
Davis told WAMC that she left a meeting with Tuttle unsatisfied with his answers about the situation. She commended Hinds for removing his name from the bill.
“Recently I’ve been working with local and state officials including Senator Hinds to try to get everyone on the same page, that a strong united effort could be underway to mend S.101 which requires this public referendum to determine whether horse racing could come into Great Barrington,” she said.
Hinds framed the experience as a healthy exercise in democracy.
“Well right now we’re meeting with the selectboard in Great Barrington soon and really making sure that the local community is involved in crafting the process," said the state senator. "So that’ll be a big thing, really paying attention and making sure the local selectboard and residents are satisfied with the local approval process.”