Presque Isle Downs Slashes Racing Days By 50%, Will Other PA Tracks Follow?

Posted By Kevin Shelly on February 25, 2021

The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission agreed this week to a nearly 50% reduction in planned 2021 racing dates at Presque Isle Downs. That will mean just 52 racing days, down from the originally proposed 100.

According to Todd Mostoller, the Erie track’s horsemen leader, the reason is “Casino slot revenue has not recovered.” He is of course referring to months of virus-caused casino shutdowns that lifted in early January, and continued limited capacity restrictions.

Presque Isle meet pushed back until July

Originally set to resume racing in May, the track’s trimmed meet will now not begin until July 5.

Mostoller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent Association, which represents horsemen’s interests at both Presque Isle and Penn National’s track, first raised the prospect of a reduced meet in a Jan. 28 tweet to his members.

The tweet cautioned:

“As the pandemic continues, it is very difficult — if not impossible — to project purse revenue resulting from slot revenue. We expect to conduct 50 days of racing. We will add days at the end of the meet if purse revenues exceed expectations. Bottom line: We will run as many days as the purse account can support.

Back-to-back reduced schedules for Presque Isle Downs

A 52-day meet for Presque Isle Downs was approved by the race commission this week.

The track owned by Churchill Downs also hosted just 50 race dates in 2020, half the 100 dates originally planned.

A dramatic decline in slot revenue cited

Mostoller told the racing commission on Tuesday that the typical horse racing set-aside from Erie’s Presque Isle Casino land-based slot revenue – tracks get about 10% of the retail slot revenue – was typically between $240,000 and $260,000 a week.

He added that the amount of casino revenue filtered toward racing purses was just $522 for the entire month of January at the small casino in the northwest corner of the Keystone State.

He cautioned during the commission meeting that a reduction in race days could also come eventually at Penn National. Still, revenue figures there were not yet clear enough to make a call.

Balance purse level to assure interest of bettors

Pete Peterson of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition said low purses mean less interest from horse bettors and a lower quality field of horses on tracks.

Financial support from casino-based slot machines pays for between 95% and 98% of the purses paid at PA tracks. That’s part of the 2004 deal which ushered in casinos in PA.

Less slot revenue support means less horse racing, added Peterson.

Despite the pandemic pressures, Peterson said recent sampling had shown a year-over-year uptick of interest in racing. And an increase in wagering across the board.

Lead image credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

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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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