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Betting Down by 25% at Pennsylvania horse tracks

According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, betting at Pennsylvania horse tracks is down 25 percent from 2006.

In 2009, gambling on slot machines in Pennsylvania provided $236 million in subsidies to the horse racing industry, yet total betting at racetracks continued to fall, according to statistics released by the state.

Sustaining operations at racetracks such as Parx East - formerly Philadelphia Park - in Bensalem, the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association said Wednesday that the statistics prove slot machines are a "lifelineā€.

Michael Ballezzi, executive director of the horsemen's association said, "We would not have live racing in Pennsylvania if not for the slot machines. The slot machines have saved our industry."

With the economy, the organization remains hopeful betting will improve. According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, when casinos in the state began operating since 2006, total betting at horse tracks has dropped 25 percent. In 2009, racing fans in Pennsylvania bet $734 million on horses, which is down from $975 million in 2006.

Racetracks have suffered across the nation. From 2006, Wagering at all U.S. tracks is down 16 percent, according to Equibase, official supplier of racing statistics for ESPN. Despite a multi-pronged effort to invigorate the sport, comes the decline in betting in Pennsylvania. To the Pennsylvania Horse Development Fund, goes a portion of all slots revenue.

80 percent must be spent on higher purses and 16 percent must benefit breeder operations, of the $236 million generated for the horse fund last year. For horse owners and trainers, another 4 percent helps pay for health care benefits and pension plans.

Since slots were legalized, prizes paid to winning horses have doubled, according to the state. In 2009, total purses paid to winning horses were $134 million and the winners received $62 million in 2006.
Last year, Pennsylvania tracks hosted 11,539 races, which are up from 7,958 live races in 2006. More than 200 racing days are schedules this year in Parx East.

The Bensalem casino unveiled renovations to its grandstands located off Street Road in September. More people will be drawn to the racetrack, as the company plans for new betting areas, entertainment centers and restaurants.

Ballezzi said, in the races, a 24-table poker room, which opened inside the grandstands on Nov. 3, should also spur more interest.

Ballezzi added, "We agreed to have table games in the grandstands because we believe this will attract possible racing patrons. Unlike the slots, we believe that table games have a similar complexity to racing."