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Governor Rendell Announces Improvements to Horse and Harness Racing Administration

HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- To improve equine racing operations in Pennsylvania, Governor Edward G. Rendell today announced the consolidation of the administrative offices for thoroughbred and standardbred racing.

The state Harness Racing and Horse Racing commissions will remain separate entities.

"Thanks to the hard work of both racing commissions and the addition of slots at racetracks, Pennsylvania will continue to be a great place to raise, race and enjoy horses, regardless of the breed or style of racing," said Governor Rendell. "While each industry and commission has its own needs and unique qualities, we have an opportunity to improve the administrative support provided to them by consolidating staffs."

Streamlining the day-to-day operations of the commissions and having staff report to one executive secretary will eliminate duplication of efforts in several administrative areas, the Governor said. It will also save money while retaining the commissions' oversight.

The new structure includes staff-level directors of horse and harness racing to oversee respective track operations and ensure that industry needs are met. The Governor noted that all current staff will be accommodated in the reorganization.

A nationwide search will be conducted for a new executive secretary to serve both commissions. The search committee includes Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff, Horse Racing Commission Chairman Rick Abbott, and Harness Racing Commission Chairman Roy Wilt. In the interim, the Department of Agriculture's deputy secretary for marketing and economic development, Cheryl Cook, will serve as acting executive secretary.

"By combining efforts for both commissions, we have an opportunity to better market all racing in the state," said Governor Rendell. "Our new executive secretary will help reinvigorate our outreach efforts and promote the growth of the racing industry."

Chairman Abbot said: "I appreciate the unique nature of each commission's staff, but recognizing that many of the roles they play are similar, I endorse the plan to combine them. This reorganization in no way lessens the commission's resolve to keep Pennsylvania at the forefront of racing, from permanently staffing Presque Isle Downs to our recently announced ban on steroids."

The reorganization will also allow for a single point of contact for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board with respect to licensing and enforcement issues arising at the seven racetracks that hold Category 1 gaming licenses. Since the passage of Act 71 of 2004, which added slot machine gaming to racetracks, the purses for horsemen in Pennsylvania nearly doubled in 2007, and the development funds for thoroughbred and standardbred horses in 2008 are anticipated to hit $11 million each.

"Thanks, in part, to the hard work of each of the commissions and their staffs, two of the new racetracks authorized in Act 71 are up and running and the third is under construction," said Governor Rendell. "The Sire Stakes and Breeders Funds for both commissions are providing unprecedented support for the future of Pennsylvania's equine industry, and the addition of gaming to racetracks is bringing more racing fans to the state than ever before."

Pennsylvania is home to three standardbred racetracks - the Meadows in Washington County, Pocono Downs in Luzerne County and Harrah's Chester Downs in Delaware County - and three thoroughbred tracks - Philadelphia Park, Penn National in Dauphin County and Presque Isle Downs in Erie. A fourth harness track was recently licensed in Lawrence County.

The reorganization does not affect the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory, which tests at random and for all winning racehorses to ensure that the horses are racing on their own ability and the skill of their jockeys and drivers.

The Rendell administration is committed to creating a first-rate public education system, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and continuing economic investment to support our communities and businesses. To find out more about Governor Rendell's initiatives and to sign up for his weekly newsletter, visit http://www.governor.state.pa.us.


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