A Senate bill could bring change to horse-racing industry
Pennsylvania's vast gambling enterprise was launched a decade ago under the guise of saving the state's horse-racing industry.
The state's $3 billion-plus per year gambling industry has indeed revived racing and breeding, with a contribution of about $200 million a year to boost purses and track operations.
But the rescued industry has not evolved as projected. The two commissions within the Department of Agriculture that regulate harness and thoroughbred racing are near bankruptcy because they are funded by live betting at tracks, whereas the majority of wagering has moved to the Internet.
Higher stakes also produce other issues that the state has not addressed since it last updated the horse racing laws about 30 years ago.
Last November federal prosecutors announced fraud charges against three horse trainers and an employee of Penn National Race Course, near Harrisburg, for an alleged scheme to defraud bettors by injecting horses with banned substances.
Also last year, an investigative series by The New York Times revealed broad abuses within the industry and that racehorses die at U.S. tracks at the rate of 24 a week.
Clearly, the state government needs to update the law and regulation. A Senate bill would do that. It would ensure the financial stability of the regulatory process by eliminating the two commissions and replacing them with a single bureau within the Gaming Control Board.
The bill also would increase equine safety by authorizing expanded testing, including at training and boarding facilities away from tracks.
It also would establish greater regulation of Internet wagering.
But the key issue is safety. Gretchen Jackson, owner of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, put it this way in a recent television interview: "People can't go on like this. It's up to the human beings, the trainers, the owners, to stick up for the horse." That's just what lawmakers should do.