At a time when jurisdictions are considering gaming expansion at racetracks as a tonic for ailing state economies, they need look no further than the Keystone State for evidence of the curative qualities of slots and horseracing.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board recently released its second Pari-Mutuel Wagering Benchmark Report detailing the impact of slot machine play on the pari-mutuel industry in Pennsylvania.
The report compares the status of pari-mutuel wagering for the years of 2006, 2007 and 2008. It focuses on revenue from slots play and the various indicators of pari-mutuel health such as racing days, purse amounts, racing handle and the export of live racing signals to other properties both inside and outside Pennsylvania.
“With three years worth of data, some trends are starting to emerge including the fact that the horse and harness racing facilities are enjoying an increase in gaming revenue on days when live horse racing is conducted,” Melinda Tucker, director of racetrack gaming for the control board, noted in a news release.
Gaming Control Board member Gary A. Sojka offered a similar upbeat assessment, noting the report helps gauge the progress of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act in reinvigorating the horse and harness racing industry.
“The improvement of our racing industry, spurred by the tremendous success of legalized slots gaming, has a direct impact on farmland preservation and a beneficial trickle-down on the entire agricultural community in the Commonwealth,” he stated.
Among the report’s highlights:
• During 2008, the average daily gross terminal revenue generated from slot machines gaming at horse and harness racing facilities was 11.1 percent higher on racing days vs. non-racing days, or $625,598 on non-race days vs. $695,430 on race days.
• In 2008, seven slots facilities operating collectively contributed $193.9 million to the PA Race Horse Development Fund - an increase of $69.2 million over 2007.
• Race days in Pennsylvania jumped by 11.8 percent from 838 race days in 2007 to 937 race days in 2008.
• The live racing handle on-track rose by 6.7 percent a total $40.9 million in 2007 to $43.6 million in 2008;
• Purses earned in Pennsylvania increased by 39.3 percent from $144.3 million total in 2007 to $201.1 million in 2008.
Several states this year have considered or are considering gaming expansion as a way to stem hemorrhaging budgets. At press time, for instance, Kentucky, was looking at adding video lottery terminals at its horseracing tracks to deal with the state’s projected revenue shortfall.
The slot machine debate is not a new one for Kentucky, having raged for some 15 years, but this year may be different because of the recessionary economy. Gaming machine backers say legislators have few other options to boost revenues for the state.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has said the plan would raise $360 million just in upfront licensing fees. If passed, tracks would use some of the income from the gaming machines to augment race purses and pay for track upgrades. The state also would get a share of the proceeds.
TheRichmond Register, in Richmond, Ky., reported that state Rep. Harry Moberly, gave the proposal a 50-50 chance of passing. Moberly also told the newspaper he would give the matter “serious consideration” because the governor has said the very survival of Kentucky’s horse racing industry is at stake.
In New Hampshire, a battle was brewing at press time over the Senate version of the state’s budget that would allow 13,000 slots at tracks to drive $205 million in state revenues. Stay turned. This could get interesting.