Horse racing could make a return to the fairgrounds in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, as soon as next year. The operators of the Suffolk Downs race track in East Boston have a deal to lease the Berkshire County facility.
Horse racing last took place in Great Barrington in 1998 as part of the now-defunct fair. With live racing coming to an end soon as Suffolk Downs, its operators want to hold a limited number of live racing dates in the Berkshires, with off-track betting taking place back in Boston. Suffolk Downs CEO Chip Tuttle said the deal goes beyond finding a place to run horse races.
"It would bring a lot of investment to a property that hasn't had a lot of activity and has been underutilized over the last decade or so, while preserving it as a source of, and an area for, community recreation," Tuttle said.
Tuttle says while the grandstand at the fairgrounds needs work, he said he was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the rest of the facility. "There are still barns that are in very good shape," Tuttle said. "Candidly, some of the barns at Barrington are in better shape than some of the barns at Suffolk Downs. The racing surface is still there, though it's underneath some grass."
And a Berkshire County economic development and tourism official said he'd like more details, but believes bringing horse racing back could attract more visitors to the area. "This looks like one of those things to have the potential to do that," said Jonathan Butler, the president of 1-Berkshire. "Activities like horse racing has actually done very well in terms of being a sought-after amenity by visitors in a number of different regions that we compete with, like upstate New York and the Saratoga area."
The chair of Great Barrington's Selectboard, Stephen Bannon said the town also looks forward to hearing more. "While the Town of Great Barrington has not been briefed on the proposal, we look forward to the development team attending a future Selectboard meeting to present their plan, share details about the proposed project and hear from our community," Bannon said in a statement.
For the project to go forward, Tuttle said Suffolk Downs will need the state legislature to change some of Massachusetts' horse racing laws. The race track operator would need the ability to race in one location and simulcast in another. It is also looking for a ten year license to operate, instead of being approved on a yearly basis.
A spokeswoman for the state's gaming commission says if those legislative changes are made, Suffolk Downs would need to submit a license application to the commission. For the project to go forward, Tuttle says Suffolk Downs will need the legislature to change some of the state's horse racing laws.