SLOTS FOR SMARTYVILLE
Pennsylvania, birthplace of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner Smarty Jones, is moving uptown. Slot machine legislation that was passed and signed by Gov. Ed Rendell during the Fourth of July holiday weekend promises to take racing in the Keystone State to heights never before envisioned. It's an odd law, because tracks that have yet to be built will benefit from the slots windfall, as will existing tracks like Philadelphia Park and Penn National. When the state announced it would be awarding additional racetrack licenses there was a "gold rush"-like descent on the state capitol in Harrisburg. Everybody wanted in on the action, which is probably a good thing for state politicians who don't mind having their hands out for campaign funds. The big question is how much racing these yet-to-be-built tracks will offer.
According to estimates provided by slots proponents in Pennsylvania, purses at Philadelphia Park eventually are going to nearly triple from the present $140,000 per day to more than $400,000. What will be most interesting to follow is whether the Pennsylvania foal crop will grow significantly. Over the last 10 years, the number of Pennsylvania-breds has scarcely changed. In 1992, there were 871 Thoroughbred foals born in Pennsylvania. In 2002, the most recent year for which numbers are available, the crop stood at 856. Pennsylvania ranked 10th nationally in foal production for 2002. Slots have done wonders for New Mexico's breeding industry, and there is every reason to believe that Louisiana breeders will soon begin to prosper from the machines at racetracks there. But Pennsylvania, which boasts the sixth-highest population among the 50 states, with 12.3 million residents, has a lot more to gain because of its size. Keep in mind, however, that as Pennsylvania grows, slots operations in neighboring states may suffer. But suffering even more are the states currently without slots. Passage of the Pennsylvania law may push them along.