Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett

AP Photo

PA Horsemen Blast Plan to 'Raid' Slots Fund

The governor's budget would take $72 million a year for the next three years.

The Pennsylvania Equine Coalition has blasted a budget proposal by Gov. Tom Corbett to take roughly $72 million in each of the next three years from the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund to pay for other agriculture-related programs.

Corbett’s 2012-13 budget proposes no tax hikes but instead shifts existing revenue. The PHRDF, which gets revenue from slot machines at racetrack and non-racing casinos, would take a substantial hit under the governor’s proposal.

According to line items in the general fund budget, the PHRDF would provide the following on an annual basis: $44.7 million to the Agricultural College Land Scrip Fund, $27.8 million to the University of Pennsylvania for veterinary activities, $971,000 to county fairs in Pennsylvania, and $248,000 to the University of Pennsylvania for control of infectious diseases.

In the roughly five years Pennsylvania has had casinos, horse racing has banked more than $1.1 billion, including purses, breed development, and horsemen's pension plans. The state has received more than $3.1 billion, and casino owners have collected more than $4.2 billion, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

The Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, a statewide group representing more than 10,000 trainers, owners, and breeders, said Feb. 7 that Corbett’s budget “scheme to raid” the PHRDF will be a “devastating blow to the horse racing and breeding industry that candidate Corbett pledged to support on the campaign trail.” The coalition said the equine industry employs more than 23,000 Pennsylvanians, and the cuts will result in significant job losses across the state.

The group said Corbett, in his campaign, pledged to “work closely with the racing industry organizations to promote Commonwealth racing as an integral part of Pennsylvania agriculture, tourism, and cultural heritage.”

Members of the coalition in a release took issue with the governor’s plan.

“This budget is not supporting the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania–it’s gutting it,” said Todd Mostoller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents horsemen at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and Presque Isle Downs & Casino. “In one fell swoop, the governor’s budget cut will decimate the progress made by the industry in attracting new businesses and preserving open space, creating jobs, and providing health care benefits for Pennsylvanians.

"Raiding the fund demonstrates a clear lack of support for a major economic driver within the agricultural economy of the state.”

“Coming on top of an already planned $47 million transfer from the Race Horse Development Fund to the state’s general fund, we are now looking at a roughly $120 million loss in the 2012-13 fiscal year,” said Ron Battoni, executive director of the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association, which represents horsemen at Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. “That means a significant decrease in purses, which are used to pay everyone from blacksmiths to veterinarians to stable hands.

"Trainers and owners who brought their horses and businesses to Pennsylvania with the expectation of competing for a certain level of purses are going to pull up stakes and make their investments elsewhere.”

“The timing couldn't be worse as the New York breeding program is attracting horsemen from across the country due to the introduction of slots in October of 2011,” said Jeb Hannum, executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association. “Racing and breeding are significant economic drivers in the state that support over 20,000 jobs. This is a $1 billion industry that supports rural communities and the state’s agricultural economy.”

Members of the coalition include the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association, the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, the Standardbred Breeders Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, and the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

The proposed budget wouldn’t take any operating revenue from the owners of racetrack casinos and non-racing casinos. The original 2004 law gives purses and breed development 12% of slot machine revenue at racetrack casinos, and 6% from non-racing resort casinos.