Philly Horsemen Get OK to Intervene on Slots Plan

The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association was granted the right June 5 to intervene in proceedings to determine whether a temporary slot-machine facility at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack should be considered permanent.

The Pennsylvania THA, which represents horsemen that race at Philly Park, has fought plans by Greenwood Gaming to delay construction of a free-standing casino on track property. Track officials insist they plan to construct the $300-million facility, but not by the fall of 2009 as originally outlined.

“We are pleased that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board granted us the ability to be a party to the consideration of Philadelphia Park's proposal,” Mike Ballezzi, executive director of the Pennsylvania THA, said in a statement released June 6.

“Making the current conditions at the casino and track permanent would be a disaster. Philadelphia Park made a commitment to the commonwealth, to local residents, and to local governments that it would invest $300 million in a new facility that would spur economic development and create new jobs. They should not be allowed to back away from that commitment.”

Doug Harbach, director of communications for the Harrisburg, Pa.-based gaming control board, said June 7 the board unanimously approved the Pennsylvania THA petition to intervene during its June 5 meeting. The horsemen’s group asserted it has an interest in the proceeding which is “substantial, direct, and immediate” by way of their live racing agreement; the gaming board can grant a petition under those circumstances.

Horsemen argue that, if the track’s master plan is allowed to be modified in the manner proposed, it would cause them to suffer decreased pari-mutuel revenues. Management in May announced plans to better accommodate pari-mutuel customers, particularly on major racing days.

Philly Park already has been approved to expand its existing facility on the first two floors of the grandstand and add slot machines. Harbach said the horsemen’s issue deals with a “change in status plan”--having the current slots area approved as permanent.

The Pennsylvania THA will be able to present evidence to the gaming control board concerning the Greenwood petition through the submission of written statements or other methods, and the submission would be part of the evidentiary record. A hearing has not yet been scheduled, Harbach said.

The Pennsylvania THA released figures that claim live handle at Philly Park was down 26.3% in April, the largest monthly decline since slots began operating this past December. Horsemen said simulcast handle was down 18.1%. Cumulatively, live on-track handle was down 21.5% and simulcast handle was down 13.5% from Jan. 1-April 30 of this year, the figures indicate.

When the slots operation began, pari-mutuel operations moved to the fifth floor of the grandstand. A small area adjacent to the paddock on the first floor was kept open as well. Horsemen claim the set-up is keeping patrons away.

Slots were billed as means to revitalize horse racing in Pennsylvania, and thus far, the revenue has fueled capital improvements and purse hikes. Ballezzi said, however, that one of the elements of the 2004 Race Horse Development and Gaming Act is to “enhance live horse racing in Pennsylvania.” The current structure is harming pari-mutuel business, he said.

“This was clearly not the intent of the legislature or the governor when they expanded slot machines to Pennsylvania's racetracks,” Ballezzi said.