PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – “As they head toward the halfway point in the race the one to catch is Rock Me Crystal…..” the track announcer’s voice echoes across the Meadows Racetrack during the fourth race. Only a few people are in the grandstand, but countless dollars are on the line throughout the wagering world.
It’s an industry that in many respects was saved by the casino-funded Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Trust Fund: casino gambling dollars set aside to fund the purses that the racing industry depends on. “That was to help us to be able to survive,” says Kim Hawkins of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association.READ MORE: Pa. Lawmaker Has Bill To End County And Municipalities Spending Millions Of Tax Dollars On Lobbyists
In his budget address Governor Tom Wolf said, “Let’s bet on our kids instead of bankrolling race horse owners,” as he proposed taking money from the trust fund to $200 million in college student scholarships.
Specifically the governor wants to fund bridge scholarships for students in the 14 state universities like California, Indiana, Slippery Rock and Clarion.
Washington County Commission Chair Diana Irey Vaughan has major concerns about the governor’s proposal: “How do you pick and choose who you are going to supplement for education with tax dollars?”
She points out a lot of college students in Pennsylvania attend private colleges, business schools and other forms of education.
But Irey Vaughan’s concerns are also about the impact on the Meadows Racetrack.
“There are a lot of families that have employment opportunities because of the racetrack,” says Irey Vaughan.
Hawkins doesn’t mince words about the impact if the Governor’s plan is approved: “It will be the end of racing and breeding in Pennsylvania. There’s no equivocation about it.”READ MORE: 2 Guns Found Behind Clairton City School District Buildings
From the track to the farms and all the other businesses that support the racing at the Meadows, about 4,000 people draw their living from the racing side of the Meadows.
Horse owner and trainer Tim Twaddle says the governor’s plan would leave little for the purses they depend on. “I’m thinking total purse is $20 million a year, divided for the six tracks, which is basically, it’s horse blankets we’re racing for. Nobody could make a living.”
Owner, trainer Randy Bendis worries about the eight people who work for him.
“There’s so many people, my blacksmith, my hand straw man, my feed man — everybody would be affected,” he says.
And many on the track’s back side worry like, Naquel Harvey, that they might have to relocate: “I’m a home owner so I’d have to sell my house and potentially move back to Ohio.”
Hawkins says statewide the horse racing industry impacts the lives of up to 23,000 Pennsylvanians.
The horse racing industry says it contributes about $1.6 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy.MORE NEWS: Ray Shetler Jr., Wanted After Violating Probation, Arrested In Westmoreland County
The governor’s proposal will need bi-partisan support in the legislature. While the idea of funding scholarships is expected to be supported, whether the money should come from the horse racing industry or somewhere else will be the source of discussions in Harrisburg between now and the budget deadline.