Nothing Amusing About Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission

by | 10.18.2013 | 2:43pm

From the Can't-Make-It-Up-Department: When Walter Remmert is not overseeing the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission as its third executive secretary in the past few years (his title may still be interim), he's busy watching over 9,300 amusement rides at carnivals and parks throughout the state as Director of the Bureau of Ride & Safety Measurements.

I didn't make that up. Really.

Remmert was director of racing enforcement for the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission before Daniel Tufano left sometime earlier this year as executive director under a mysterious cloud. Nearly everything about horse racing regulation in Pennsylvania is mysterious.

Questions asked to the racing commissions' executive secretary are referred to a communications person in the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the racing commission. The communications person, who knows nothing about the operations of the horse racing commission, refers questioners to the Right to Know Law section of the Agriculture Department's website. Written questions to the Right to Know department attorney are answered 30 days later in writing, usually with non-specific answers – the hope being that the person asking the question will just get tired of the process and maybe join the circus or carnival, where they might finally get to meet Mr. Remmert making the rounds and doing inspections.

This is in a state that has had as many controversies in racing as it has roller coasters at amusement parks. No one seems to be in charge at the Department of Agriculture that either knows or cares about horse racing and the enforcement of existing rules is, to say the least, questionable. “You have to be careful when you walk through the backstretch at Parx,” a Pennsylvania owner told me not long ago, “because there are so many horses being milk-shaked you might trip over a rubber tube and hurt yourself.”

There are whispers of dozens of positive tests for drugs that have yet to be prosecuted and suggestions that horsemen's organizations are reimbursing some owners the purse money they may have lost through positive tests in cases that were prosecuted – to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

None of this information makes its way into the sunshine.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Ride & Measurement Standards that Remmert also oversees has its own problems. A recent investigative report by Public Source found that safety inspections aren't being done as required by law. “It was a model program,” a former inspector said of the bureau. “It is a laughingstock now.”

The same can be said of Pennsylvania's Horse Racing Commission, though it was a dysfunctional mess before Remmert was handed the responsibility of running it.

A group of state senators, led by Elder Vogel, whose 47th District includes Lawrence, Beaver and Allegheny Counties, recognize horse racing is not being properly regulated and announced plans to introduce legislation that would amend the 1981 Race Horse Industry Reform Act.

“Currently, the State Racing and Harness Racing Commissions are each comprised of three members as an administrative body under the Department of Agriculture; our proposal dissolves both commissions,” wrote Vogel, in a memorandum seeking co-sponsors that was signed by Sens. Dominic Pileggi, Joseph Scarnati, and Robert Tomlinson. “This proposal will re-establish the function of regulatory oversight of the racing industry within the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

“Since the inception of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, we certainly have seen the economic benefits of our racing industries. Purses, racing days, employees and horses operating at our tracks have all increased. The regulation of the industry has gotten expensive and complex, but now more important than ever. Sadly, live handle (money wagered on our tracks for our horses) has decreased which is the sole funding source for the enforcement of the RHIR. Our legislation will make a number of changes to licensure, fines, fees and the pari-mutual tax structure to properly fund regulatory oversight and drug testing.”

It's good to know someone in Pennsylvania understands the system now in place isn't working and that it's past time for a change.

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