Gubernatorial Hopeful Supports Slots at Racetracks

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ed Rendell has said he supports a plan to put slot machines at Pennsylvania's racetracks in order to fund the state's financially strapped schools.

Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, said his plan would raise $500 million or more for education, and that revenue from slot machines would shift school costs from taxpayers and school districts to the state.

In his announcement, Rendell cited a Penn State University study that showed $283 million in revenue would be generated with the addition of 1,500 slot machines at each racetrack, and up to $500 million with 2,500 machines at each track.

Pennsylvania has four tracks: Penn National Race Course and Philadelphia Park, both Thoroughbred facilities, and The Meadows and the Downs at Pocono, both harness tracks.

Rendell, who holds a narrow lead in the polls in the race for the Democratic nomination over Bob Casey, said he would "pursue legislation to legalize slots and dedicate 100% of additional state and local revenue to fund education."

Sal DeBunda, first vice president of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said horse racing in the state is feeling the squeeze from all sides.

"We're facing competition from slots in West Virginia and Delaware, and now New York," he said. "Also, New Jersey is about to introduce off-track wagering and phone betting, which will further impact our racing."

DeBunda said he is negotiating with track operators on the percentage of revenue from slots that would go to horsemen, and said that he's looking for a number "above 18%." He also said he didn't expect any slot-machine legislation to pass this year because it's an election year, but hopes something gets done in 2003.