Del. Horsemen to be Affected by Decision Made about Casino Indus - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Horsemen to be Affected by Decision Made about Casino Industry

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DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - Casinos in Delaware have been going back and forth with lawmakers for months over what to do with the ailing casino industry in the First State. Caught in the middle are the horsemen.

Delaware legalized gambling in the 90s to help save the horse racing industry. The horsemen get a 10-percent cut of casino revenue. That money goes into race purses at Harrington, Delaware Park and Dover Downs.

The harness racing season at Dover Downs started this week. And the potential effects of what's going on at Legislative Hall isn't lost on the people there for that, like George Dennis.

Dennis is an owner, driver and trainer. He remembers the good times and the bad times for horse racing in the First State.

"I was here driving and racing when we were going for $500 purses," he said. "The slots came in. That had a big impact. It helped the whole industry."

But slot revenues, the backbone of Delaware's casino industry, have dropped dramatically since 2007. Sal DiMario, executive director of the Delaware Standardbred Owners Association, says that's affected racing purses.

"Our purse revenues are down about 30 to 35 percent from their high in 2007. They've been eroded slowly each year," DiMario said. "Because the horsemen's purse account is tied into revenue from the casino, when they get cut, we bleed. So, we're all suffering through this."

DiMario is working to make sure lawmakers remember the horsemen as they debate the topic in the Lottery and Gaming Study Commission, which met earlier this week.

"We're impacted," he said. "We are trying to do as much as we can to work with the state."

DiMario expects a continued decline in slot revenue, and thus purse size, if nothing changes. And he says once things go too far down, it won't be possible to pull on the reins hard enough to bring them back up.

"There's a will to try to get something done. We'll have to wait and see what the end formulation is, what they decide to do."

It's something that Dennis will be keeping an eye on.

"Hopefully they'll come up with a good solution that won't impact our industry," Dennis said. "It's a big industry."

The Lottery and Gaming Study Commission will continue its work as winter nears. It owes a report and recommendation to the full General Assembly by the end of January.

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