Racetrack Slots Seem Good Bet in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania horsemen and racetracks may eventually be the beneficiaries of slot-machine revenue given the fact all three candidates in the state's race for governor have indicated to various degrees that they support alternative gambling.

The three candidates -- Democrats Ed Rendell and Bob Casey Jr., and Republican Mike Fisher -- have come out in favor of slots.

Rendell, who recently was "pressing the flesh" at Philadelphia Park, plans to use the money to fund the state's public education system and to help the horse racing industry.

Casey, meanwhile, has been lukewarm to the idea but said he would support slots only if they helped fund prescription benefits for seniors, and if he were convinced increased gambling in the state would not harm families.

Fisher, currently the state Attorney General, said he would support slots primarily to save the 35,000 jobs in the horse racing industry.

On May 21, Rendell and Casey will square off in the Democratic primary. Current polls show Rendell, the strongest proponent for slots, with a 10-point lead.

Recently, more slots legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Michlovic of Allegheny County. His proposal, one of four slots measures introduced in either the House or Senate, would bring slots to tracks to fund the state's sewer and water infrastructure, fire protection, and regional transit programs.

Michlovic estimates that more than $800 million would be generated by slots. Under his plan, 45% of revenue would go to the state and 55% to the horse racing industry. Of that 55%, 40% would be earmarked for tracks, 12% for purses, and the rest for jockey pension funds and breeders' funds.

Sal De Bunda, a director of the Philadelphia Park-based Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the number of slots bills that have been introduced represent a bit of posturing on the part of some politicians.

"What's not clear is whether the state will rent the machines, as is the case with the New York slots measure," De Bunda said. "Eventually, I predict that the bill will be sponsored by Republicans, and that there will be one bill ready to be acted upon once the new governor takes office."

The PTHA has already begun a campaign to get horsemen to vote in the upcoming primary, as purses are not likely to increase substantially at Philadelphia Park unless slots become a reality.