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Slots save Pennsylvania harness racing

31 March 2008

PENNSYLVANIA -- As reported by the Citizens Voice: "Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but Vivid Photo is worth millions.

"He's as near celebrity as a standardbred horse can be — the winner of the prestigious Hambletonian Stakes in 2005, more than $2.8 million in career harness race earnings, an easy favorite in most fields he enters.

"This season, the 6-year-old trotter will be competing at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Why is he coming? The slot machines, of course.

"Pennsylvania has seen a resurgence in harness racing since slots were legalized in 2004. The purses are bigger, the competition is better and major players on the international harness circuit, like Vivid's owners, are eager to snag a slice of the Commonwealth's action.

"...In 2007, a 12 percent tax on slot machine revenues funneled $128.5 million to the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, and most of that was used to bolster prize money. Horse breeders and stakes races for horses bred in-state also receive slices of the tax. At Pocono Downs, the average daily purse — prizes paid to the top five finishers in every race — jumped to $131,000, up from less than $70,000 in 2004, according to statistics kept by the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen's Association.

"...Paul Spears, chairman of the Pennsylvania Harness Breeders Association and Hanover Shoe Farms, the largest harness horse breeder in the country, gave a slightly better prognosis, but reached the same, grisly conclusion.

"...Attendance levels were still low after the infusion of slots revenue, despite the higher purses and better competition, but by all accounts those clanging, flashing machines have saved harness racing..."

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