During the last week of October Gov. Tom Wolf threatened to halt horse racing at all of Pennsylvania’s six tracks by Oct. 30, if the racing industry doesn’t agree to pay an approximate $9 million for drug testing. The tracks included cover three Thoroughbred racing tracks: Parx Casino and Racing in Bensalem, Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie and Penn National. Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Race Track in Chester, The Meadows Casino in Washington and the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, all of which feature harness racing, make up the other three of the six tracks involved.
Wolf’s threat to halt racing entirely in the state is an attempt to get lawmakers to pass a bill that would hand the $9 million annual burden of drug testing for horses from the state to the racing industry.
“The system is broken, and it needs to be fixed,” Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “This problem has persisted for years. There has been a 71 percent decline in wagers placed on live horse racing in the state [of Pennsylvania] since 2001. This means there has been less revenue for the oversight of the industry.”
Wolf has shown support for a bill sponsored by Senator Elder Vogel (R., Beaver) that would force the racing industry to pay for drug testing; this bill passed the Senate and is now in the House of Representatives.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said “Shutting down the horse racing industry would be devastating to the 500 horse breeders in Pennsylvania and the 23,000 people who are supported by the racing industry.”
A news release from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture on Oct. 2 stated that, “After a week of daily discussions between state officials and representatives of Pennsylvania’s horse racing and harness racing industries and its race tracks, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding expressed optimism today that a long-term solution to the structural deficit in the State Racing Fund is within reach.”
Contained within that release were two pertinent paragraphs that highlighted the possible seeds of the problem that now confronts horsemen, racetrack owners and legislators as well.
“While the Race Horse Development Fund has helped to keep the Racing Fund afloat, the law that created it contributed to the present dilemma. Act 71 of 2004, or the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, increased the regulatory oversight responsibilities of the state racing commissions by 50 percent, adding two new race tracks to the four that existed at the time, but the act did not dedicate any of the approximately $2 billion in slot revenues that have been generated to date for the Race Horse Development Fund to meet that increased workload.”
“The present deficit is also complicated by another factor. In 2013, the General Assembly enacted Act 52, a provision which imposed a 10 percent advanced deposit wagering tax on horse racing bets placed with companies other than the six licensed Pennsylvania racetracks via the Internet from a Pennsylvania-based IP address. As a result of litigation challenging the constitutionality of this provision, a $1.9 million tax refund must be paid from the Racing Fund.”
While the now-continuing two weeks of ongoing dialog between horsemen, track owners and administration representatives continues in the halls of government in one part of Harrisburg, it is interesting to note that, in quite another part of Harrisburg, The Black Book, a Standardbred Horse Sales Company, completed its first day of a five day sale of well over 800 harness racing horses and prospects.
On that first day 134 select yearlings, bound for the trotting and pacing tracks, were sold. The total for the day was $6,839,500 with an average sales price of $51,041 each. Sales prices on the yearlings were often in the $30,000 to $70,000 range, with several yearlings selling for over $100,000. The highest priced yearling, Hip # 129, was an entry from Concord Stud Farm, agent, to Staffan Lind, Vero Beach, FL which sold for $500,000, so it seems that while the racing industry is in flux, the Standardbreds themselves are doing rather well.