Pennsylvania Bill Would Gut Horse Racing Fund

A lawmaker wants to shift $250 million a year to support education in the state.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker's proposal to gut the Race Horse Development Fund supported by revenue from slot machines generated a strong response from the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, which represents owners, breeders, and trainers of racehorses in the state.

Republican Rep. Todd Stevens introduced legislation that would shift $250 million a yearalmost the entire amount racing and breeding gets from slot machine revenueto fund education in Pennsylvania. In statements, the lawmaker from southeastern Pennsylvania said horse racing is for the wealthy and elite, and that education should be the priority.

The Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing and breeding industry in recent years repeatedly fought cuts to the RHDF, sometimes without success. Much smaller percentages have been shifted to support other programs for a period of time.

The equine coalition noted the RHDF for fiscal year 2014 received $264 million, down $16 million from fiscal year 2012.

"We have witnessed a steady decline in Pennsylvania slot revenue over the past 18 months, and the continued regional expansion of non-racetrack casinos, from which the RHDF receives no percentage of slots revenue, will further dilute gaming revenue," the coalition said in a Jan. 31 statement. "While it is too early to predict the total allocation to the RHDF for 2014, we project it will remain stagnant or continue to fall below the $260 million mark.

"Transferring $250 million from the RHDF will effectively eliminate the fund and all affiliated programs it supports throughout the commonwealth."

The coalition also said a portion of the state's cut of 42% of gaming revenue each year already goes toward education through property tax subsidies.

"Many of our newly elected legislators may not understand the nature and origins of (the 2004 gaming law) as it related to casino gambling in the state of Pennsylvania," the coalition said. "The 12% cap on slots revenue used to fund the RHDF was developed as a 'statutory assessment' on casino operators that would otherwise have been seen as additional profit in their pockets."

The companies that own the six racetrack casinos in Pennsylvania aren't members of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition.