There’s a lot of Plainview in Massachusetts, a lot of Massachusetts in Plainview. It appears that the airplane that is horse racing in the Bay State has blown an engine and continues its maddening descent into national irrelevance. But, hey, the casinos are coming! The casinos are coming!
As a refresher, here’s the news. Suffolk Downs, the flagship of horse racing in Massachusetts, now withholds 5 percent of winnings from any bet that pays out $600 or more. This is, of course, on top of every other cream-skimming that turns a once delicious whole milk into watered-down drivel.
“If you have a milkshake … And I have a milkshake … And I have a straw. There it is,” says Plainview.
So you’re a high-wheelin’ son of a gun who threw $200 on a 3-1 horse. The tote says the payout is $8, but when you slide that ticket into the machine, it returns $760 these days instead of $800. That missing $40 will fill up a Civic. My lord, the well is running dry, real dry. It’s making slurping sounds right there at the window.
It gets even better for Massachusetts residents. Read this from DRF’s Matt Hegarty, “The withholding is only being applied to Massachusetts residents, [Suffolk Downs COO Chip] Tuttle said. However, the withholding applies to any wager that a Massachusetts resident makes, so if a player at Suffolk or a Massachusetts account-wagering customer cashes a bet on an out-of-state race that exceeds the threshold, the withholding is triggered, Tuttle said.”
You can’t even play Belmont, Parx or Calder if you live in Massachusetts without incurring the wrath of the straw.
“Watch it,” says Plainview. “My straw reaches acroooooooss the room and starts to drink your milkshake.”
This is the Boston Massacre all over again. The few people who actually play the races in Suffolk; and then the few among them who place a winning wager here and there; those are the ones getting tapped and bled drier than the Sunday Ranch from There Will Be Blood.
“I. Drink. Your. Milkshake! I DRINK IT UP!” yells Plainview.
Horseplayers, savvy as they are, have figured out a way around this 5 percent withholding. Take our $200 bet at 3-1 odds. All the savvy horseplayer has to do to avoid the withholding is place two bets, two tickets at $100 apiece, worth $400 per ducat. But what a pain. It’s an small hurdle and an bigger insult to the paying customer who is more disrespected than the combined inconveniences of every other sporting experience in North America.
Suffolk management cannot be pleased. They'll fight, they'll lobby, but they'll lose until the bottom line proves to unknowing, myopic pols that higher takeout--and that's what this is--is extremely regressive in games of chance.
The 5 percent withholding is on all gambling revenue. Make way for the casinos. Slot machines, roulette and blackjack aren’t immune to the withholding either. The tax becomes triggered instantly on certain bets. I picture a cyborg dropping out of the ceiling when said withholding launches.
Casino gaming is every bit the oil tycoon of the early 20th century. They swept in and offered property owners riches the likes of which they had never seen. They offered to build churches and subsidize a community until, of course, they bled the earth of its crude, organic matter.
The skimming of slot revenue into purses and breeding incentives is eerily similar. Just enough is skimmed and ferried in the direction of horseman and breeders to appease them and allow them to make a living, at least in the short term. There’s an unsettling feeling about this contract. But does the state come in and hit the horseman with the tax to recoup what they’ll be giving them? No. Instead the bill is passed to the customer.
Massachusetts is in heat for the casinos that are on the way. We’re already seeing how the casinos have given horse racing a spark. But I can’t help but feel this spark will not be a long term solution to the problem horse racing has with newbies that don't understand the betting model.
You can almost hear a casino spokesman saying, “Do you understand how long it takes to handicap? Why not just pull this crank, push this button? Why do THAT, when you can do THIS? Now allow me to wipe the drool from your chin.”
If Suffolk Downs can’t get this reversed, as Tuttle and staff are trying to do, then it’s only a matter of time before all those horses are put to pasture along with the storied history of horse racing in East Boston.