Ready To Run? PA Horse Racing Commission Formally Asks Gov. Wolf To Reopen Tracks

Posted on May 4, 2020 - Last Updated on May 5, 2020

The Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission has formally asked Gov. Tom Wolf to give special consideration for allowing horse racing to resume with safety protocols as part of easing COVID-19 restrictions.

The state has already allowed marinas and golf courses to reopen, including at casino properties. The May 1 lift also allowed for construction to resume, including a casino work site.

Wolf is expected to announce further changes to restrictions on May 8.

And he’s already said he is open to considering reopening horse racing.

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Details of the racing request

The racing request letter was signed by state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, in his role as racing commission chairman. The letter, provided to PlayPennsylvania, reads as follows:

Dear Governor Wolf:

The State Horse Racing Commission at its recent public meeting acknowledged your administration’s tireless efforts to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all Pennsylvanians. The Commission fully appreciates the enormity and complexity of the decisions that were made early on to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its potentially devastating effects on the citizens of the Commonwealth. Your initial Emergency Stay-at-Home Order and the various ongoing measures taken by you and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine have clearly “flattened the curve.”

The Commission understands and sees first-hand the economic and life-altering devastation COVID-19 has brought upon the Commonwealth and its citizens. To that end, as Chairman I have been asked, on behalf of the Commission, to provide you with some particular information regarding the present status of racing and to ultimately seek your consideration for the resumption of live racing statewide.

Immediately upon the cessation of live racing on March 16, 2020, the racetrack operators – the Meadows Racetrack & Casino (Washington County), Penn National Racecourse (Dauphin County) and Parx Racing (Bucks County) and their respective horsemen’s groups entered into various agreements which allowed the backside of those facilities to remain open in order to properly protect, feed, exercise and provide daily care, including veterinary care, to the horses at those facilities which were subject to your stay-at-home order. The system and protocols put in place (which remain in place today) at those facilities were designed with the safety of all persons and horses on the backside in mind. To date, there have been no reported COVID-19 positives at those facilities.

As we enter the recovery phase for the Commonwealth and its various industries, it is noteworthy that racetracks in Florida, Louisiana and several other U.S. tracks remained open during the COVID-19 crises for live racing without patrons, but by exercising proper measures and safety protocols, they were able to do so safely while continuing to generate significant revenues for the respective state, racetracks and their horsemen.

Being guided by your plans for reopening and recovering the Commonwealth, the Commission believes that the safety protocols and strict guidelines promulgated by the Department of Health similar to those announced for the construction industry, golf courses and marinas – which are
presently in use at the racetrack facilities – would also allow for a safe and feasible reopening of live racing within the Commonwealth. The Commission will continue to review the recommendations, methods, and best practices for those seasonal racetrack facilities, such as Presque Isle Downs, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, and Harrah’s Philadelphia, which were scheduled to return to racing soon.

Unlike other sports and entertainment venues throughout the Commonwealth, horse racing operates in what has been labeled as a self-contained “ecosystem.” Using the Department of Health’s numerous guidance documents for cleaning, disinfecting, and other safety measures, as well as specific protocols available from other racing jurisdictions, the Pennsylvania racing industry is confident that it can reopen and recover sooner, rather than later. With the ongoing implementation of strict social distancing and adherence to the use of safety equipment (PPE) at those racetrack facilities, the resumption of live racing statewide – without fans present – could be implemented without undue risk to horses and horsemen.

The Commission is prepared to answer any questions you may have and hopes you and your administration will give special consideration to this request.

What’s next for racing in PA?

All of the state’s tracks have been asked by the racing commission to provide reopening plans by May 8.

Racing without a crowd works because the races are televised (or streamed in-app), and horse betting is available through services such as TVG.

Horse racing and wagering have gained fans recently as they draw the interest of frustrated gamblers who have been left with few other live sports options.

What would benefit the horse racing industry could also provide some well-needed revenue for state coffers. We’ll continue to provide updates on reopenings in the state here at PlayPennsylvania, including at our ongoing PA closures live updates page.

Kevin Shelly Avatar
Written by
Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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