Pa. lawmakers to propose stronger oversight of state horse racing

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In this image provided by Equi-Photo, Will Take Charge, ridden by Luis Saez, wins the Pennsylvania Derby horse race at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa., on Saturday June 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Equi-Photo, Barbara Weidl)

Four top Pennsylvania state senators have announced their intention to increase oversight of the state’s billion dollar horse racing industry.

Since the legalization of slot machines in 2004, horse racing has received more than $1.3 billion in subsidies that have sent purses skyrocketing. But the legislation -- which provides race horse owners, trainers and breeders with more than $200 million a year -- left racing largely unregulated.

A memorandum issued Oct. 15 calls for amending the Race Horse Industry Reform Act of 1981.

“The act, responsible for the oversight of the racing industries in Pennsylvania, has not been updated in over twenty years despite drastic changes in the way game is funded, raced and regulated,” said a statement signed by state senators Elder Vogel (R-Allegheny), Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), Joseph Scarnati (R-Jefferson), and Robert Tomlinson (R-Bucks).

They added that enforcement of regulations has taken a hit because the sole source of funding it — the amount wagered on races — has fallen precipitously.

Among the changes the senators are calling for include:

  • Placing racing oversight with the Gaming Control Board. Currently, the Department of Agriculture oversees the sport through the state Racing Commission, whose acting director also is responsible for amusement park rides.  
  • Authorizing drug testing at off-site training and boarding facilities and out-of-competition drug testing.
  • Prohibiting track personnel or relatives from receiving gifts from breeders, trainers and others.
  • Directing fines and fees from the general fund to the State Racing Fund to enforce the provisions of the act.
  • Increasing fines.
  • Authorizing a surcharge on purses for the marketing and promotion of Pennsylvania horse racing.
  • Authorizing internet wagering.
  • Addressing the distribution of pensions and benefits.