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Sneak Preview of Joe Clancy's August 2012 editorial

The sigh of relief you heard in late June came from Pennsylvania’s horse racing community as Governor Tom Corbett signed a new budget which did not take away the benefits of the Race Horse Development Fund as originally proposed.

Gov. Corbett’s earlier budget proposal called for diverting $72 million from the fund, which derives income from slots revenue at racetracks and is used to support purses and breeding programs at Thoroughbred and Standardbred tracks in the state. 

While the threat may have looked like a political football from afar, the Keystone State’s equine community did not take the proposed change lightly. Instead, the Penn-sylvania Equine Coalition (which represents 10,000 industry stakeholders) went to great lengths to espouse the benefits of the industry. Politicians and the public couldn’t help but get the message. Whether Gov. Corbett and his administration were ever actually going to strip the program no one knows, but the potential change became a discussion point. And that was enough.

Pennsylvania’s horse community reacted, as one, with the coalition driving an advertising campaign, issuing statements, creating an educational video, hosting a one-day horse conference, inviting legislators to a day out at Penn National Race Course and testifying at a Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee hearing. Most importantly, the coalition energized people in the horse industry to tackle grass-roots lobbying efforts. Collectively, the efforts pushed the two main topics of job creation and economic impact.

“We are a huge part of the Pennsylvania economy and the industry has helped drive job creation since the fund came into existence,” said coalition spokesman Pete Peterson. “It was useful to have the industry speaking with one voice so there aren’t a lot of conflicting messages. We had to justify why the industry is important and vital to the economy.”

The effort ought to be a blueprint for the future of the state’s racing industry, and a model for any other state that shares revenue via slots or other supplemental gaming. In this economic climate, state budgets are going to face continued pressure. Elected officials are not going to stick to the script every year. And taxpayers won’t just follow along without asking questions.

Racing knows its value when it comes to job creation, economic impact and land preservation, but the industry should not expect others to simply take its word for it. Every industry in every state wants to thrive, wants to benefit, wants to make its case for support from the state. 

The burden to provide the answers, to justify the assistance, to keep the money flowing falls on the racing industry. Nobody else is going to do it. 

Breeders, owners, trainers, tracks and farms benefit from programs like Penn-sylvania’s, which came to be in 2004. Originally called Act 71, it took a portion of the casino’s slot-machine revenue for the horse industry in the form of increased purses and breeder/owner incentives. The result was an improvement to the racing business?–?higher purses, more money for horsemen, bigger foal crops, more demand for horses, the expansion/relocation of farms and healthier outlooks for the various attached businesses.

Draw the line far enough and you’ll touch thousands of jobs and billions in economic impact?–?numbers every state’s equine industry should promote. Peterson stressed that unity was a key component to the coalition’s work, meaning one entity spoke for the masses?–?simplifying the process for politicians and the public.

Pennsylvania isn’t alone in the region when it comes to support from slots programs. Delaware, West Virginia and now Maryland also benefit and no doubt face similar economic and political pressure. Learn from Pennsylvania. Be vigilant. Navigate state legislatures. Know the facts and distribute them. Do the work, and don’t stop.

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