Answer: To make big money.
I should confess that I skipped a step between I and 2. You don't have the highly skilled attorneys to handle this highly specialized chore. Your own lawyers don't quite have the expertise. There is a very exclusive group of lawyers that specializes in this line of work, and as proof of their professional competence they never, but never, fail. Everybody knows who these lawyers are, and everybody knows the standard fee, 20% of the amount they save you in the form of abatement.
In my first year at Suffolk Downs our tax bill from the city was roughly $613,000, which all in all seemed reasonable. The next year, with the tax rate rising and perhaps a general distemper setting in, we were sent a bill for around $780,000. No, the tax rate hadn't gone through the roof. Only our assessment. Do not despair. I summoned our highly trained legal expert. He appeared on the scene in a flash, whined off some lightning calculations and advised me that $615,000 or so should take care of it. He submitted a request for an abatement for the remaining $165,000. When the abatement was finally approved, it turned out that our whiz was $15,000 off, a sum not worth quibbling about. After all, he had saved us tens of thousands. The legal fee for his mental exertions was $33,000, which I could only consider a steal. A year earlier, his bill had been a giveaway $12,000.
Which shows, kids, why it is better to go to law school than to become a dropout and maybe fall into a life of crime.
A week or so after I had taken over Suffolk Downs I paid a call on Governor Francis Sargent, partly as a courtesy and partly out of curiosity. The governor wasn't unfriendly, yet there was something hanging in the air. I was suspect. All through our rather inconsequential conversation I had the distinct impression he was measuring me. I could never quite shake the feeling that it wasn't just one man who was looking me over so carefully, it was the whole corporate body he represented. "They" thought anyone who wandered around making speeches for free (as I was doing to publicize the track) had to have something more nefarious in mind than drumming up customers. Given the political atmosphere that blankets Boston, everything I subsequently did confirmed their worst suspicions. I had my own TV show, I continued to pop up all over the radio dial, I joined any civic committees and charity drives that would have me. All that activity, all that public exposure, could add up to only one thing. I was out to make a political career for myself. In Boston, where everybody is running for mayor, in and out of season, I actually had people worrying.
It was going to be impossible to ignore the political realities. One of the first things I discovered was that it was politics that had put me, and the track, in a straitjacket. Thoroughbred racing was limited to 90 days a year. Suffolk had just 66 of those days. (Berkshire Downs, a ramshackle track in the western part of the state, had the rest.) Even those 66 days were not ours to do with as we wished. There were further regulations. For openers we had to apply for our dates by Jan. 5, an arrangement that allowed the Rhode Island and New Hampshire tracks, which operated with 70% Massachusetts clientele, to decide where and when they would run against us. For reasons I couldn't possibly imagine, the out-of-state tracks had more muscle with the Massachusetts legislators than Suffolk Downs did.
The dogs were king in Boston. They had been first on the scene. The owners of Wonderland Dog Park had written the racing legislation, and not surprisingly, they wrote it in favor of themselves. Three decades later their astute and canny lobbyist, Clarence King, was still by far the most influential lobbyist in the state legislature. Since 1935 pari-mutuel racing had been restricted to 200 days for the dogs, 90 days for flat racing. (Later, 90 days were granted the harness sport.) These figures had not changed.
When I appeared before the legislature's ways and means committee with a bill that would have revised the racing statute to allow for more flat racing dates, lobbyist King, as expected, spoke out in opposition and the bill never got out of committee. I should have known mine was a foolhardy scheme. When my predecessor, Dave Haber, talked of instituting a few changes during his first season at Suffolk, a Wonderland official collared a Suffolk representative at a meeting and barked, "Tell Haber not to get any funny ideas because we control the legislature and we control the sportswriters."
But I am getting ahead of myself. Thirteen days after our race meeting opened I sued the racing commission. That was the first battle.
There were signs all over Suffolk Downs saying: NO MINORS PERMITTED. As the week of our opening approached, those signs began to vex me. Where did it say in the rules and regulations of racing that minors were barred from the grounds? The only relevant clause forbid minors to bet. I wanted to have my own kids visit the track and not feel their old man was involved in an evil business. But that was not the whole reason I was pressing the issue. Long-range economic prospects were involved.