Proposed Pennsylvania budget would decimate racetracks' purses

February 04, 2020 01:04pm
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday presented his plans for the state’s 2020-2021 budget that includes a provision that would gut the Horse Racing Development Fund.
The Race Horse Development Fund, funded by slot revenue from the state’s casinos, provides money for horse racing purses at Thoroughbred race tracks such as Parx, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and Presque Isle Downs. Wolf, a Democrat, wants to divert money earmarked for racetracks into a new scholarship program to help students pay for college and stay in Pennsylvania. “I’m proposing a historic $200 million investment in scholarships for the young Pennsylvanians attending our state system universities,” Wolf said. “That will mean 25,000 (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education) students… can get a degree without crushing debt. And we’ll do that by repurposing existing tax dollars that are right now flowing into the Horse Racing Development Fund.” Wolf added: “Let’s bet on our kids instead of bankrolling race horse owners and ensure the viability of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.” Inspired by a Pennsylvania woman of modest means who was forced to drop out of school following the death of her father, ultimately causing her to give up on her dream of obtaining a college education, Wolf’s plan is to be known as the Nellie Bly Tuition Program. Under the program, students will be granted funds to pay for college, with the promise that they will stay in Pennsylvania for at least four years  and up to a maximum of six years. If they leave the state prior to the agreed time period, the grant money will be converted into a loan. Meanwhile, racetracks would suffer severe blows to their purse accounts should the budget be ratified, with the deadline June 30 for the state house and senate to push it through. It could also set a precedent for other racing jurisdictions relying on subsidies from gaming to see their own funding cut in the future. According to the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association, citing a 2018 study, the racing sector supports 7,385 jobs and adds $527 million in direct value to the state's economy. Signature races are run each fall at Parx with the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) for 3-year-olds and Cotillion Stakes (G1) for fillies.


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