Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Horse Tracks Bridle at Plan to Shift Fund Racing Industry Says Budget Proposal Would Reduce Purses

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Horse Tracks Bridle at Plan to Shift Fund Racing Industry Says Budget Proposal Would Reduce Purses

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- The horse racing industry is protesting a proposal by Gov. Tom Corbett to redirect money from a fund that has boosted its business by fattening purses.

When lawmakers in 2004 authorized slots gambling, they directed a portion of the proceeds to a fund intended to bolster horse racing by augmenting purses at tracks and aiding organizations associated with the sport. People who work at the tracks say that money allowed their business to regain viability after years of lackluster performance.

So they objected last week when the governor unveiled a budget that would take a quarter of the fund for the next three years for use by other programs, including agricultural research at Penn State University and the veterinary program at the University of Pennsylvania. Lawmakers earlier had agreed to use an additional portion of the fund for general state expenses.

"I didn't know anybody in this business, prior to slots, that wasn't hurting," said Tim Twaddle, a trainer at the Meadows racetrack in Washington County. "With this, we're talking about a 30 percent cut in purses. ... It's going to be discouraging for a lot of owners, old and new and potential."

Eighty percent of purses at the Meadows come from slots revenue, according to Kim Hankins, executive director of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association. The average size of purses at the three Pennsylvania harness-racing tracks, including the Meadows, nearly tripled between 2006 and 2009, according to a study commissioned by the state equine racing industry.

Mark Weaver, an owner who keeps 50 standardbred horses on a farm in Washington County, said his business grew from 15 or 20 employees before the slots law to 40 or 45 today. Paring the supplement to racing purses would force owners to cut spending on grooms, trainers and veterinarians, he said.

"It's a lot more than just saying we would lose purse money," he said. …

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