Citizens Concerned About GB Horseracing volunteers Terry Carlo and Fred Smith collected signatures last fall at the Great Barrington Farmers Market for a home-rule petition on the possible return of horse racing to the fairgrounds. Image courtesy Citizens Concerned About GB Horseracing

Hearing on Great Barrington home-rule petition on horseracing set for Jan. 27 in Boston

Great Barrington — A hearing has been scheduled in Boston on the so-called home-rule petition on horseracing passed by Great Barrington residents at a special town meeting last month.

The hearing before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure is set for the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 27, in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House on Beacon Hill. Click here for directions to the State House and here for directions to the auditorium.

It is not clear precisely when the home-rule petition hearing will begin. There are 10 hearings starting at 1 p.m. and the Great Barrington hearing is seventh on the list for that afternoon.

At the citizens’ microphone on Dec 11, 2019, Janel Munoa accompanied by Barbara Kellogg, members of Citizens Concerned About GB Horse Racing, address the special Great Barrington Town Meeting considering their home-rule petition to give town voters the right to decide whether horse racing can be re-introduced at the Great Barrington Fairgrounds. Standing at the podium is Town Moderator Michael Wise. Photo: David Scribner

Click here to see the list of hearings on the legislative website and here to see the home-rule petition page. The presenters will the two state lawmakers representing Great Barrington: Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox; and Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

“There will be any number of hearings before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure that day,” said a statement from Citizens Concerned About GB Horseracing, an activist group formed last year to share concerns about the possible return of horseracing to the Great Barrington fairgrounds. “Hearings will begin at 1 p.m. and they … conclude by 4 p.m.”

Earlier this month, the selectboard voted to designate board member Leigh Davis as its representative at the hearing. The board also voted to send a letter of support.

At a special town meeting in the Monument Mountain Regional High School auditorium Dec. 11, almost 300 residents overwhelmingly passed a warrant item on a home-rule petition asking Great Barrington’s representatives in the state legislature to introduce legislation requiring approval of a horse racing license at both an annual town meeting and by a majority ballot vote.

At a July 22 meeting, Great Barrington Selectboard member Leigh Davis, right, read a statement and motion asking to hit the pause button on the proposed legislation regarding horse racing. At left are fellow board members Bill Cooke and Kate Burke. Photo: Terry Cowgill

There is no proposal currently before the town but Sterling Suffolk Racecourse has reached a lease agreement with fairgrounds owners Bart and Janet Elsbach to bring thoroughbred racing back to Great Barrington for up to 40 days in the months of September and October with the goal of starting in 2020, though that timeline is unlikely at this point. The company expects to spend between $15 million and $20 million on the project.

But in order to accomplish that feat, Suffolk needs a change in state law to permit it to hold races in Great Barrington while at the same time allowing it to maintain its simulcasting and remote betting operations back at its closed race track in East Boston. In addition, Suffolk would need at least two — and perhaps three — special permits from the town.

The need for a change in state law is one of the reasons for the proposed legislation, which has also been referred to the aforementioned Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure and is still pending on Beacon Hill even without the sponsorship of Hinds, who withdrew his support last year.

Citizens Concerned About GB Horseracing is urging residents to either submit statements of support for the hearing or to attend in person and submit written testimony. The group is also trying to organize a carpool to Boston. Those interested in carpooling should meet Monday, Jan. 27, at the Big Y parking lot in Lee, near the on-ramp to the Mass Pike, at 10 a.m. Click here for more information.