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PA Gov. says no racing without casinos; coalition says why?

May 13, 2020
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The following letter was sent by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to Russell Redding, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Dated May 12, the letter is in response to Redding's letter asking when the horse racing industry in the commonwealth might be permitted to reopen for racing.

Earlier this year Gov. Wolf  proposed itaking money – $204 million annually – from the Horse Racing Trust Fund to pay for college scholarships he included in his 2020-21 budget announcement.​

On May 1, the PA State Horse Racing Commission, through Redding, who is chairman of the commission, sent a formal letter to Wolf asking him to consider allowing racing to resume with safety protocols, including no spectators. Tracks then submitted plans for reopening to the racing commission by May 8.

Dear Chairman Redding:

Thank you for your letter regarding the horse racing industry’s efforts to mitigate coronavirus (COVID 19). I appreciate the support for the commonwealth’s efforts, as keeping Pennsylvanians safe takes collaboration and partnership across Pennsylvania.

With new case counts showing that our aggressive mitigation efforts have flattened the curve in Pennsylvania, my administration has begun to plan a reopening process that protects Pennsylvanians and helps to stabilize the economy. Pennsylvania will utilize a three-phase matrix to determine when counties and/or regions are ready to begin easing some restrictions on work, congregate settings, and social interactions. This plan will begin to take effect on May 8, 2020, with 24 counties moving to a “yellow” phase of reopening.

Pennsylvania must proceed with returning to work cautiously. Broad reopenings or reopenings that are not structured around ongoing social distancing, universal masking, or other public health guidance would likely result in a spike of cases and new stay-at-home and closure orders. Throughout this process, we will have guidance in place to support best public health practices. This guidance will reinforce and build on existing worker and building safety orders. It will also be able to adapt to the changing nature of the pandemic, as well as lessons learned from communities that return to work strategically. The administration is working with economic and public health experts to determine the metrics used for safe reopening by taking a regional, sector-based approach. More information on this plan can be found at governor.pa.gov.

As part of this reopening effort, we foresee horse racing reopening when counties enter the green phase, like other entertainment (casinos, theaters, etc). I commend the Commission’s efforts to implement mitigation efforts for those who are continuing to care for the horses at this time, and forethought in planning for how to address public health and safety as it relates to each phase of reopening.

Thank you again for your efforts and sacrifices during this unprecedented time. We all have work we need to do to build a new commonwealth, and this plan for relief, reopening, and recovery will keep more Pennsylvanians alive and repair the damage this virus has caused across Pennsylvania.--Governor Tom Wolf

Pete Peterson of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition had the following response:

“The industry is not looking for a full-scale opening; It is seeking a limited reopening with no fans and limits on owners and others who could be on-premises. This could be accomplished largely with personnel who are already working on a daily basis on the backside of three of the six racetracks.​

“It was not clear to me from the Governor’s response that he fully grasps what the industry is requesting. His reference to movie theaters and other inside entertainment that are attracting patrons to the facility has no similarity to an outside racetrack facility that would be closed off from the public and have limited participants who would follow the CDC guidelines."

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