A Pennsylvania regulator said progress is being made in attempts to educate legislators and make sure horse racing gets its due as gaming parlors continue to open around the state, but much remains to be done.
On Jan. 30, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture will host a racetrack gaming exposition in Harrisburg, the state capital. Representatives of the horseracing industry will have an opportunity to talk to lawmakers about issues not being addressed on the legislative level, said Melinda Tucker, director of racetrack gaming for the PGCB.
Tucker, who serves as a liaison between the racing industry and the gaming control board, said positive strides have been made in the less than two years she has held the position.
Tucker previously worked in Louisiana handling legal issues for the Louisiana State Racing Commission. She was there when racetrack gaming was authorized in that state.
“I’ve seen racing facilities so far away from gaming facilities you can’t even see (racing) with binoculars,” Tucker told horsemen’s representatives Jan. 27 during the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association winter convention in New Orleans. “The industry as a whole gets overrun by gaming. I think what we’re doing is very important.”
Tucker noted the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission and Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission are being reorganized by executive order from Gov. Ed Rendell. She said one advantage of that is a plan to add a marketing component for horse racing under the Department of Agriculture.
Horse racing and breeding would be marketed like other agriculture products in the state, and the PGCB, Tucker said, plans to start asking racetracks about their plans to market racing as well as slot machines.
“We’re very concerned that marketing dollars are not being used for horse racing, but are being used for the gaming industry,” Tucker said. “The statute requires that the horse industry benefit (from slots). I look at this personally as racetracks getting a free gaming license.”
Tucker said it is important legislators understand the many facets of horse racing and breeding. For example, some lawmakers believe horsemen are employees of racetracks and not independent contractors, she said.
“There are small issues I saw as big issues,” Tucker said.
Tucker said the new Hollywood Casino at Penn National, scheduled to open for live racing Feb. 12, is a fine-looking facility that integrates racing and gaming. But there is more at stake in Pennsylvania and other jurisdictions in which racing is tied to gaming revenue, she said.
“For those jurisdictions considering gaming, it’s important to ensure your voice is heard,” Tucker said. “Bring in someone who can be a bridge between the racing industry and the gaming industry. It is exceedingly important not to get lost.
“This is not just about an increase in purses. (Higher purses) doesn’t mean the industry isn’t on life support.”
Pennsylvania is believed to be the only state in which the gaming control board has a dedicated individual who works closely with the racing industry and makes sure gaming law provisions related to racing are followed.
The new Penn National will become the sixth racino to open in Pennsylvania. Other Thoroughbred tracks in the state are Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack and Presque Isle Downs & Casino. Harness facilities are Harrah’s Chester Downs & Casino, The Meadows, and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
Racetrack slots began operating in late 2006 in Pennsylvania.