Harness racing season underway

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – It’s off to the races at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and the race track staff is excited for the start of the 2021 season.

“Hopefully going uninterrupted season this year, which wasn’t the case last year,” said Jim Beviglia, Track Announcer.

The racing season was halted from February until the summer due to the pandemic. Beviglia says watching or betting on the races are a favorite. It’s more crucial now, in a time when people are staying home, to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“People missed it, and so we got a boost from that. And so far, this year, the betting handle has been excellent. We’ve only had two racing days so far, but it’s much higher than we’ve seen in the past,” said Beviglia.

Harness racing is quite popular but according to the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, the future of the industry is uncertain.

Las week, Governor Wolf proposed a college tuition scholarship program for economically disadvantaged students.

“I’m proposing that we re-direct 199 million dollars in taxpayer money that has already been expended from the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Trust Fund,” said Wolf.

Brian Sanfratello is the Executive Secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, which is part of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition. He says the Pennsylvania Horse Development Trust Fund, which funds the industry, does not fall under taxpayer money.

“The commonwealth is not able to touch any of that money. It’s not theirs to use. He knows that,” said Sanfratello.

He says losing the amount proposed by Governor Wolf would devastate the Pennsylvania Equine Industry along with the loss of 20,000 jobs. Wolf proposed re-allocating money from the tax fund last year, but it didn’t happen. Sanfratello is doubtful it will pass this year, but he says the damage is already done to the center of the industry: breeding.

“The people that were going to breed their mares in Pennsylvania, some of them now, some of these people are going to other states,” said Sanfratello.

The racing industry would change without the Pennsylvanian horses.

“There are two horses on the flag of Pennsylvania, and that’s because we are the industry that makes Pennsylvania go,” said Sanfratello.

Eyewitness News reached out to Governor Wolf’s office about the taxpayer money debate, and did not yet hear back.

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