Pennsylvania Casino Revenue Should Benefit Education, Not Horse Racing – Poll

By | June 23, 2021

A new poll in Pennsylvania concludes that more than eight in 10 residents in the state believe tax revenue from casino slot machines shouldn’t be used to support the horse racing industry.

Pennsylvania casino revenue horse racing
A horse race begins at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. A new poll finds that Pennsylvania residents don’t believe casino taxes should benefit horsemen. (Image: The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association)

Pennsylvania casinos are subjected to a 54 percent tax on their gross gaming revenue (GGR) generated by their slot machines. Eleven percent of that money is allocated to the Pennsylvania Horse Race Development Fund, which is used by the horsemen for race purses, breeder incentives, drug testing, and regulatory enforcement. 

The state’s 15 commercial casinos support horse racing to the tune of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars annually. A new poll finds that a strong majority of Pennsylvanians want that to end.

Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research says 83 percent of respondents asked about the subsidy answered that the money should be used “for other purposes.” Only 10 percent said they’d prefer the casino slot revenue to continue supporting the horse racing industry. Seven percent said they weren’t sure.

“There is clearly little appetite for taxpayer-funded horse racing,” said Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, the statewide nonprofit that commissioned the poll. “With so many other more pressing needs, it’s hard to justify continuing this program.”

Asked if such gaming money should be used to fund scholarships, 82 percent favored such a reallocation. Only 14 percent were in opposition. 

Loaded Questioning?

Pete Peterson of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition says Pennsylvanians want to continue supporting horse racing in the Commonwealth. He claims the Franklin & Marshall poll was flawed. 

I know from experience that third-party groups can pay Franklin & Marshall to ask specific questions in its poll, which I assume is what happened here,” Peterson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  

One example of a poll question that could be inferred as loaded by some horse racing proponents: “Would you continue to support the use of state tax revenues to support the horse racing industry if you learned that about 1,400 horses have died in the past 10 years as a result of racing-related injuries?” 

The question received 51 percent answering “Yes” and 45 percent “No.” 

Governor Support

Spica and Education Voters of Pennsylvania aren’t alone in wanting to redirect the slot taxes. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year it’s time for the state to stop supporting horsemen.

The Democratic governor in his second term wants to use the approximately $250 million the horsemen are expected to receive this year to support a new college tuition program for students pursing degrees in education and health care. 

“Are we going to bet on horses, or are we going to bet on our kids? I’m going to bet on our kids,” Wolf declared.

Wolf has floated the Nelly Bly Tuition Program as a worthier recipient of slot tax money. A Pennsylvania native, Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman — better known by her Nelly Bly pen name — was a pioneer in American journalism and investigative reporting. 

The governor’s proposal would provide scholarships to all undergraduate students enrolled at the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities who come from families with a household income under $104,800. Upon graduation, the scholarship recipient must remain a resident of Pennsylvania for as many years as they received a financial benefit, otherwise the grant becomes a low-interest loan.

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