PA Tracks Must Answer for Racing Promotion

Pennsylvania racetracks were told they must demonstrate a commitment to racing.

The chair of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission said March 10 racetrack casinos in the state are expected to demonstrate “concrete ways their commitment to live racing and breeding” under recently passed legislation authorizing table games.

The tracks, termed “Category One” license-holders, already have slot machines under a 2004 law.

Since 2006, hundreds of millions of dollars in slots revenue has gone to the tracks, purses, breeders, and programs for horsemen. Racetrack improvements have been made, but there is a common belief not enough has been done to promote horse racing and generate interest in it by all parties.

During a March 10 Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board public hearing on an application by PARX Casino at Philadelphia Park to offer table games, PHRC chair Dr. Corinne Sweeney cited provisions in the new law. A copy of her comments was forwarded to media outlets.

Sweeney said the 2010 law mandates racetracks to submit annual reports and to indicate measures that will be taken to enhance live racing. Pennsylvania has three Thoroughbred tracks and three Standardbred tracks.

“We expect the Category Ones to put their best foot forward to demonstrate in concrete ways their commitment to live racing and breeding in Pennsylvania,” Sweeney said in her comments. “We expect the Category One license-holders to provide to us what steps they plan to employ to increase the handle and attendance at their respective racetrack in the ensuing year.

“The breeding and racing of horses in Pennsylvania are the keystones as to why Act 71, the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act (of 2004) was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell. With the enactment of (the new law), there will be closer scrutiny of what the Category Ones are doing to promote and enhance live racing and breeding in Pennsylvania.

“There should and will be a closer connection between live racing, slots, and table games; one should be recognized as ‘part and parcel’ with the other. Expectation will be for the Category One license-holders to get creative and innovative. Specifically, we fully expect the Category One license-holders to promote live racing in a robust and sustained manner.”

Greenwood Racing, owner of Philly Park, moved slot machines out of the track’s grandstand late last year and moved them into PARX Casino, a fancy facility located on the property. According to published reports, Greenwood intends to renovate the circa- 1974 grandstand to properly accommodate horse racing and a poker room.

Racing and simulcast activities have been confined to the fifth floor and a small area off the track apron for years. On-track business has taken a big hit as patrons opted to wager elsewhere.

Sweeney said the PHRC expects the Philly Park grandstand “to be suitable for the enhanced live racing product originally contemplated in (the 2004 law)." She also noted the disconnect between PARX Casino and the racetrack, saying: “There should be closer links between the Category One license-holders and featured live racing in something as fundamental as signage. When you enter the PARX Casino, you should immediately be aware that live racing is being conducted at Philadelphia Park.”

There was a similar issue with Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course near Harrisburg. Interstate signage that originally only mentioned the casino has been changed to include “racetrack.”

Sweeney also said the PHRC expects tracks to “maintain a safe and professional backside for the well-being of the horses and the stable staff.”

“Cooperation between the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the State Horse Racing Commission will be the hallmark going forward,” she said in her remarks. “The Category One license-holders have a duty, by law, to enhance live racing and breeding in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”