02/24/2009 12:00AM

Pa. poker offers opportunity


TUCSON, Ariz. - Some things that appear remote and distant at first glance can have profound impact later on.

There were several in racing in recent days.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell is seeking video poker terminals for some 8,800 bars, private clubs, and restaurants in the state. In present plans, there would be an average of only four at each, but that's 35,200 added to those currently at the state's racinos.

The Rendell proposal ranks next to motherhood and Christmas on a scale of worthiness. It would be used to help generate $550 million a year to assist more than 175,000 Pennsylvania college students in meeting expenses by providing them as much as $7,500 a year, depending on family income. It is an innovative college support program unprecedented in scope.

It would apply to families earning less than $100,000 a year with children who attend any of the 14 state universities and community colleges in Pennsylvania.

If this bill passes, it would mark the second major success for Rendell. He got slots passed in the first place by promising tax relief to Pennsylvanians and producing it.

If it is approved and works, it has another aspect even more enticing.

We have tossed in the air, a number of times, the idea of a racing sweepstakes, and watched it shot down on each occasion. The naysayers claim it can't be done, for a number of reasons, including current laws, post times, lack of distribution outlets, and division of the spoils.

Laws can be amended, post times coordinated, and equitable division of the spoils worked out by compromise.

As for distribution, those who follow European racing know of the linked pools of France's Pari Mutuel Urbain, or PMU, with its national triple - the tierce - and vast network of post offices and tobacco shops in which it is sold throughout the country.

In Sweden, there is the V75 wager, with a similar distribution network and a bet in which the bettor must select seven consecutive winners for the grand prize, or six or five consecutive for smaller rewards. The bet has grown in popularity at 10 percent a year for five years, to where it is billed as the largest in the world. It piles up huge pools for those picking seven straight. Last Saturday's grand prize was worth more than $18 million in American dollars, and the pool is cumulative, less the hits on six or five straight. It is available in the United States at the Meadowlands, Monmouth Park, and Freehold Raceway in New Jersey, with Illinois reportedly coming on board.

But the bet is on Swedish horses and horsemen, largely unknown here. That unfamiliarity, and the lack of mass distribution outlets, are reasons cited for the lack of greater success of the V75 here.

That may be true, but if the Rendell plan goes through, Pennsylvania will have 8,800 such outlets where people gather. They will be able to bet using slots, and hopefully on televised racing in Pennsylvania.

All of this is conjecture and dreams, which is what progress is made of.

There were other remote events proposed last week that could affect racing as we know it, materially - perhaps fatally - if they materialize.

There is a bill - HB 630 in New Hampshire - that as currently drafted would ban greyhound racing in the state, as was done last November in neighboring Massachusetts. However, the New Hampshire bill would allow the state's three tracks to conduct simulcasting without live racing.

This is what horsemen and management have feared for 25 years, since simulcasting began in earnest. If New Hampshire were to adopt it, others undoubtedly could follow suit.

If you own, race, breed, or work with horses, that can be a frightening prospect: a nation betting from the couch at home, beer and pretzels and cheese and crackers at their side, but with only a few tracks - and far less horses - producing the shows.