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November 25, 2013

Racing bill calls for industry overhaul

NEW CASTLE — Legislation introduced last week might save Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry, which could go broke early next year.

State Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., who represents Lawrence County, is one of four senators who introduced the measure.

If enacted, the legislation will abolish both the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission, which oversees thoroughbred racing, and the Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission, which regulates harness racing.

The two would merge into a Bureau of Horse Racing.

Horse racing — and all other forms of gambling — would be under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which now licenses and regulates casinos .

Both three-member commissions currently are under the Department of Agriculture.

Acting with Vogel, who is chairman of the Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee, were senators Dominic Pileggi, Joseph Scamati and Robert Tomlinson.

Lawrence County commissioner chairman Dan Vogler, who has cheered on the development of Lawrence Downs Casino and Racetrack since the idea’s inception about 10 years ago, this week raised concern over how the proposed changes might affect progress of the harness racetrack and casino planned for Mahoning Township.

This or any change to the gaming law “could provide legislators with the opportunity to introduce amendments that could be detrimental to our interests in the track and casino,” Vogler said.

The license for Lawrence Downs has been granted by the harness commission, he said.

“Could this (new legislature) somehow retroactively overturn the award already made? Could a legislator craft an amendment with potential to harm our project?” he asked.

Vogler said Vogel “must be vigilant and shoot down any amendment that would be harmful.”

He said the county commissioners will monitor the situation for developments.

“I hope we don’t see that happen,” he said. “We appreciate the support the harness commission has shown to our project.”

Vogler said he understands the need for some of the changes being proposed.

“But I would feel better if this (proposed legislation) had not happened until our project was under construction or up and running.”

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