Great Barrington to vote on horse racing question

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GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — A special town meeting for voters to decide whether to hold a referendum to decide if thoroughbred horse racing can return to town is scheduled for Dec. 11.

A home rule petition that began circulating in mid-October received nearly 500 signatures, and forced the meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

The Town Clerk certified 278 of those signatures. Two hundred were needed to hold the meeting, which will decide whether residents can vote on horse racing.

The petition, started by Citizens Concerned about GB Horseracing, was sparked by a myriad of concerns about the sport after Suffolk Downs proposed a revival of racing at the fairgrounds, which has sat mostly dormant since the last races were held in 1998. Opponents cite a number of potential problems, including horse deaths, potential environmental pollution as well as an increase in traffic.

Suffolk Downs, which is owned by Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, held its final race in June at its East Boston/Revere oval after it sold the property to a developer in 2017. The company has an option with the fairgrounds' owner for a long-term lease, and is planning to refurbish the property to prepare it for up to 40 racing days per year, beginning in the fall of 2020.

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Sterling Suffolk has not filed with the state for 2020 racing dates, nor with the town for the necessary special permit.

But the proposal would require broad new legislation that would allow it to continue its simulcasting and wagering operation in East Boston. That legislation is pending in the Statehouse.

It was the discovery that this bill lacked a mechanism for a citizen referendum that has roiled some residents.

The new horse racing legislation is broad and statewide, and the results of the town vote won't affect it, according to lawmakers.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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