HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Horse racing in Pennsylvania supports 20,000 jobs, according to the industry, which is supported by hundreds of millions of dollars from slot machines. There is now a push to take some of that money and give it to college students.
Insiders say hold your horses.
Governor Ed Rendell signing Act 71 in 2004. It was called the Race Horse Development and Gaming act.
“Watch the jobs in the horse racing industry double,” Rendell said.
The law legalized casino gambling and steered a cut of slots revenue to the horse racing industry. It’s about $250 million a year — but too much, critics say.
“After 15 years and $3 billion, the horse racing industry is fat and happy but it can’t stand on its own four hooves?” asked Sharon Ward, of Education Voters of Pa.
Ward is with Education Voters of Pa., a group that supports Governor Wolf’s plan to siphon $199 million from horses and bet on college scholarships.
“Imagine if we spent that money on college students who would then be productive and taxpayers in Pennsylvania,” Ward said.
Russell Williams, owner of Hanover Shoe Farms, disagrees.
“We don’t think the state would be wise to take it away from us,” Williams said.
Williams runs Hanover Shoe Farms, known for world-class standardbred horses. He says his farm supports 40 families. Statewide, the industry can’t support a $200 million cut.
“These 40 families are right there on the farm working with the horses and if we went out of business where would they go?” Williams asked.
But the Pa. Department of Agriculture is not racing to the industry’s defense, saying if it can’t stand on its own, “then we’ve made a poor policy decision to support them for this long,” according to Pa. Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.
“Gaming is exploding. People are gambling more they’re just not interested in horse racing,” Ward said.
But casino gambling nosed across the finish line because of several Republicans who voted “yes” to save the horse-racing industry. Should the cash now go to ponies? Or pupils?
“I think Republicans have a better memory than some Democrats and I think it will fail,” Williams said.
The money would come from funds that pay for breeding and purses, not oversight of the industry.