PLAINS TWP. — After enjoying some pizza in Old Forge on Tuesday, the new chairman of the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission crossed the border into Luzerne County to oversee his first commission meeting near the track where he last raced his own horses seven years ago.
“I was sworn in yesterday by the Senate after serving for just over six months on the (state) Thoroughbred (Racing) Commission,” Harness Racing Commission Chairman Jonathan Newman told those attending the commission’s June meeting at the new hotel and convention center at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
The commissioners meet at state harness racing venues throughout the year, as well as at commission offices at the Department of Agriculture in Harrisburg.
Newman said he always relished lunch stops in Old Forge, the little Lackawanna County town famous for its special style of pizza, and Tuesday’s stop was at Arcaro & Genell.
Newman, whom Gov. Tom Corbett nominated and the state Senate confirmed Monday as the new commission chairman following the resignation of former chairman Roy Wilt, said he “loved” working on the thoroughbred commission, “but harness racing is home for me. I love the sport of harness racing.”
Newman, of Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County,
has owned and raced many standardbreds, racing last at Pocono Downs seven years ago.
Open just about a year in 2007, Mohegan Sun still had only an “interim casino” with slot machines. So a walk through the casino concourse on Tuesday, past table games, glitzy stores and restaurants such as Bar Louie and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, gave Newman some “culture shock,” he said.
But he believes that harness racing and casino gambling can co-exist successfully. “In this era with casino gambling and slots, horse racing to me is as natural as baseball and apple pie,” he said.
Newman said he saw “a lot of friends in the audience” at the meeting and was acquainted with many owners, trainers, breeders and drivers. “I think the harness racing community is a tight-knit community who cares about the sport. And I hope that together, we can do a lot of things to bring the sport to even higher pinnacles.”
Asked about state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s recent report that said the State Racing Fund faces increasing challenges and that steps should be taken to keep the racing industry from what he described as “significant jeopardy,” Newman called the report’s findings “unfortunate.”
“We’re going to be particularly careful to understand those findings going forward to do things consistent with best government practices and in the best interest of horse racing,” he said.
During the business portion of the meeting, Jennifer Starr, racing marketing manager at Pocono Downs, said overall revenue increased 0.3 percent over last May at the track, but she noted there were two fewer race nights this May than in May 2013.
Starr also noted that this Saturday is Sun Stakes Saturday at Pocono Downs, with some of “the best horses in the world” competing for purses totaling nearly $3.2 million.