Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico lawmakers in deadlock over RacinoBy Phil - 16 September 2014
The horse racing industry in Puerto Rico is facing a growing crisis causing not only a loss of horse racing tax income but is also leading to layoffs and reduced working hours.
Meanwhile, fewer races are leading to a sharp decrease in the amount of betting outlets on the island.
Local experts have predicted that the industry will continue to decline if the government does not move to quickly to approve new measures, which would permit a casino to be constructed at the only thoroughbred racetrack in Puerto Rico. However, there is still no agreement on the issue which would allow a total of 300 slot machines to be housed at the Camarero Race Track – the oldest track in Puerto Rico.
During a public hearing in front of the House Committee on Transportation Infrastructure, Recreation and Sports, President of Camarero Race Track Ervin Rodriguez Velez said: “The situation of our industry has come close to collapse. This is an industry that has lost millions of dollars in revenue and faced increases in cost. The industry was abandoned to its fate by previous governments and is not promoted at all, even though the government has been the body that has benefited most due to its high tax rates on bets.”
During the public hearing lawmakers heard that advisors to the Secretary of the Treasury, had endorsed 300 slot machines at the racetrack rather than the 500 that were originally proposed.
However, the Local tourist Board has underlined reservations about permitting slot machines at the track stating that 300 machines was still the equivalent of having a casino operating less than 15 minutes away to an already existing casino and could well jeopardise jobs in the gaming industry.
The casino industry is also going through a crisis due to the growth of illegal gaming and casinos are a vital source of funding for the Tourism Ministry and the State University on the island. It is estimated that there are now 45,000 illegal slot machines nationwide.
The crisis has been especially acute for the horse racing industry which has been in decline for many years due to the rise of casino gaming and illegal gaming on the island. The crisis has caused government revenues related to horse racing alone to have decreased from US$ 31.4m in 2005 to about $13.2m in 2013.