2015-10-23 / State

Wolf warns he may suspend horse racing

Associated Press

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf warned that horse racing may be suspended in one week because of the budget stalemate. 
AP Photo/Matt Rourke Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf warned that horse racing may be suspended in one week because of the budget stalemate. AP Photo/Matt Rourke HARRISBURG (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration warned Thursday that it may suspend horse racing in Pennsylvania in a week because a state budget stalemate has compounded the troubles of a deficit ridden fund that is supposed to underwrite various regulatory functions over the sagging industry.

Wolf’s press secretary Jeff Sheridan said the four-month budget stalemate with the Legislature has left the state without the resources to prop up the State Racing Fund. The administration will suspend racing Oct. 30 at the state’s six tracks if a solution is not reached before then, he said.

“We cannot afford even one more month without the necessary funds, so we will be forced to shut down racing if there is not an agreement by next Friday,” Sheridan said.

The fund, which normally comes from a tax on wagering, is running a negative balance and owes $1.9 million from a tax lawsuit, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Representatives of the racetrack owners and horsemen were given the same news during a meeting Thursday with Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. The fiscal troubles with the State Racing Fund mirror those in Pennsylvania’s industry, in which betting has dropped off 70 percent in the last 15 years, according to the department. Meanwhile, regulation has gotten more complicated and expensive, officials say.

“Unless we take action to make changes now, we simply don’t have the resources to ensure the integrity of racing in Pennsylvania,” Redding said in a statement.

A spokesman for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the racetrack in suburban Harrisburg, noted that the industry was presented with a similar scenario in 2013 and avoided a shutdown.

“It’s a very fluid situation at this point, but we’re hoping a solution can be found,” spokesman Eric Schippers said.

Wolf’s budget proposed a transfer of $6.5 million into the State Racing Fund to keep it solvent.

In the past, the state has transferred money from a tax on slot machine gambling that goes into the Race Horse Development Fund, which subsidizes racetrack purses and horse breeding programs.

Wolf supports Senate legislation that would transfer an estimated $11 million to pay for the cost of the state’s drug testing while overhauling the bureaucracy that regulates the sport. The industry opposes the bill, which has not moved in the House after it passed the Senate, 25-24, in June.

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