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Pennsy slot bill advances

April 22, 2003

In Maryland the debate is over whether the legislature will ever approve slot machines at the state's horse tracks. In Pennsylvania, approval is such a foregone conclusion that interest groups are already lobbying for their share of the cash.

As we said during the Maryland debate, the biggest mistake would be to give the track owners too large a share.

Gov. Ed Rendell's plan would place up to 3,000 slot machines apiece at eight of the state's horse tracks, which would have to give 35 percent of their revenues to the state.

A competing bill by state Sen. Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks, would put the state's share at 30 percent, though a spokesman said Tomlinson could live with the 35 percent proposed by the governor.

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That extra 5 percent should come off the track owners' share, which Tomlinson's bill now sets at 54 percent, not including a 15 percent share that would go to boost purses. Just 1 percent would go to the state's breeders.

Another bill introduced by Del. H. William DeWeese is an even better package, with just 40 percent going to the track owners, 4 percent to the breeders and 2 percent to fund pension and health benefits for horsemen, jockeys and drivers.

That compares favorably to the 39 percent proposed as the tracks' share of revenue in the final Maryland bill.

Despite the fact that industry representatives said such a share didn't compare to what other states were providing, we favor starting with the lower figure, then increasing it if necessary.

What should be increased now is the state share that goes to education, now pegged at 35 percent in all three proposals. When compared to the 42.1 percent in the initial Maryland bill, our original position on slots at the tracks still makes sense.

Track owners may holler about their share, but under all three Pennsylvania proposals, they would get an exclusive license for their areas and an opportunity for a number of revenue generators, like parking fees and food sales.

That's plenty for the tracks. What lawmakers should concentrate on now is getting the maximum share for the state's schoolchildren.

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