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Record bets drive horse races as slots fall

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 11:54 p.m.
 

Tax revenue that slot machines generated to help support the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania dropped slightly last year, but the amount of money bet on races set a record, reaching more than $776 million, a report released on Wednesday said.

The annual report by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board details the impact the state's casinos have on its horse racing industry. A portion of revenue generated from slot machine gambling is earmarked for horse racing under a 2004 state law.

“It's had a tremendously positive effect ... attracted a lot of new owners to the game,” said Jack Piatt II, vice president of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association and a horse owner for 40 years. “The number of horses bred in Pennsylvania has gone up.”

More than $272 million in slot machine tax revenue went last year for the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, the gaming commission said. Of that, about $224 million was earmarked for the horse racing industry to enhance purses, assist breeding operations and provide health and pension benefits for horsemen. In 2006-12, the fund distributed more than $1.3 billion to the horse racing industry.

Wednesday's report “underlines specific areas where the impact is tangible and shows that the horse racing industry continues to benefit from the revenue that casinos generate here in Pennsylvania,” said Gaming Control Board Chairman William H. Ryan Jr.

That impact has been felt across the agriculture spectrum: trainers, farmers, feed sale stores and veterinarian groups, Piatt said.

“I don't think it would survive without slots,” said Jan Fread of Eighty Four, a horse trainer since 1969.

Asked if the industry was better off than eight years ago, Fread said: “We're definitely better off.”

Critics have asked why the state has raided the fund for other purposes. Since July 1, 2010, 17 percent has gone to the general fund, but those transfers are scheduled to expire June 30.

Both the number of days of live racing and the total number of races held in Pennsylvania increased by about 1 percent in 2012 compared with 2011, the report said.

”Anytime the (amount wagered) goes up, that's a big deal for us,” said Mike Jeannot, president of racing for the Meadows Race Track & Casino in Washington County. “Last year was a great year for the Meadows and a strong year for horse racing in Pennsylvania.”

Total dollars wagered on Pennsylvania races in 2012 reached $776,945,404, up 12 percent from 2011. It was the highest since casino gaming began in 2006.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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