Horse racing budget talks to resume Tuesday

20151026-Pa-horse-racing
Frosted wins the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing back in September. Negotiations are set to resume Tuesday over how to keep horse racing open for business in Pennsylvania.

Negotiations are set to resume Tuesday at 10 a.m. over how to keep horse racing open for business in Pennsylvania, a challenge that came in the wake of Gov. Wolf's threat last week to shutter racetracks if the industry fails to shoulder more of the costs of regulation.

State officials, lawmakers, and industry leaders last met Friday to try to work out an agreement, with all maintaining an optimistic view of making a deal.

Lacking a state budget, Wolf said the fund that pays for the industry's administrative costs will run out of money, forcing the closure of Pennsylvania's six race tracks by December, including Parx in Bensalem and Harrah's in Chester.

"No one wants to see racing suspended in Pennsylvania, but the state may have no other choice given the structural deficit in the Racing Fund," the Department of Agriculture said in a statement Monday.

"While we remain optimistic that we will be able to reach a solution, we are ready to issue the notice on Friday, Oct. 30, that will begin at least a 30-day countdown to when the suspension will take effect," the department said.

Salvatore M. DeBunda, president of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, is not attending the meetings. But he said all of the stakeholders are submitting ideas to resolve the funding issue.

For instance, he said, one idea is to have the horse owners and trainers pay for the drug testing. Another is to increase the fund's revenue through licensing fees.

"Something workable will come out this week at least enough for everyone to keep talking even if we don't have an agreement by Friday," said DeBunda, whose organization represents trainers and owners at Parx Casino in Bensalem.

"We all want racing to continue. I just think we need to find a way to make that happen."

The fund was designed to cover costs that include drug testing of race horses, and draws its revenue from a portion of a tax on horse-race wagers.

Because of dwindling interest in the sport, the fund has failed to cover the $20 million in administrative costs, usually generating only half that, officials said. The $1.6 billion industry supports 23,000 jobs in Pennsylvania.

"Racing is not going to be shut down," Todd Mostoller, executive director of the Pennsylvania's Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said last week after Friday's talks. "I'm extremely optimistic. I'd be shocked if it was."

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