PA Breeders, Horsemen Warn of 'Raid' of Fund

Pennsylvania horsemen and breeders are seeking to protect funds from slots.

The Pennsylvania horse racing and breeding industry is fighting proposed legislation that could take roughly $100 million from the Race Horse Development Fund and use it to help balance the state budget, which is billions of dollars short.

The $100 million would come from purses and breed development programs for Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. The horse industry gets 12%-18% of revenue from slot machines at racetracks and non-track locations in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association and Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association have issued “alerts” to members informing them of possible legislative action and a "raid" of the revenue.

The PHBA said Thoroughbred breeding would take an $8-million hit on top of the loss of $5 million in pari-mutuel revenue that has been reallocated by the state Department of Revenue. The PHBA said the $13 million accounts for about 65% of the total fund.

“What has developed into the country’s top such breeding incentive program would be gutted, and the incentives and rewards for breeding Thoroughbreds would be destroyed,” PHBA president Peter Giangiulio said in a memo to members.

The PHHA, which represents harness horsemen at Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, acknowledged the Race Horse Development Fund is a target.

“The pressure is on for state representatives to balance Pennsylvania’s budget,” the PHHA said in a legislative alert. “They are cutting wherever they can.”

If the fund were cut or eliminated, it would cause Pennsylvania to “immediately become non-competitive with neighboring states and could lead to the collapse of Pennsylvania racing, its infrastructure, and related businesses,” the organization said.

The 2004 law that authorized slots at racetracks and other locations is called the “Race Horse Development and Gaming Act.” Proponents said that since 2006, hundreds of millions of dollars from slots has moved Pennsylvania’s horse breeding industry to the forefront in North American; generated new investment in farms and bloodstock; and aided the broad agricultural community in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania racing and breeding industry has received about $300 million since slots began operating in 2006. Legislators and the mainstream media have raised questions about the funding given the fact the state can’t find money for other programs.

An official with the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents horsemen at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and Presque Isle Downs & Casino, earlier in July said the group planned to hire a public relations consultant to help raise awareness of the Race Horse Development Fund.

“We don’t do a good job of educating legislators until we’re in crisis mode,” Pennsylvania HBPA president Joe Santanna said.

Earlier in this decade in West Virginia, the state began taking $12 million a year from purses and breed development programs at four tracks—two Thoroughbred and two Greyhound—to help fund a troubled workers’ compensation program. All four tracks have video lottery terminals, and three have table games.