Letting it ride at the fair

A total of 34 harness races were held over three days at the fair.
CANFIELD -- Gambling can't be used to jump-start the economy in the Mahoning Valley, but it can be used to pay harness racing officials at the Canfield Fair.
George Berlin, fair board member, said the board uses money collected from betting on the harness races to pay the racing officials. Some of the money also is used to pay the winners of the bets, and the Ohio State Racing Commission also takes a percentage of the cash.
"It's not a very substantial amount of money," Berlin stressed, adding that a total of about $25,000 is bet on the harness races each day.
The races were Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Races scheduled for Friday were canceled because of rain.
Proposed casino: Earlier this year, a group of casino promoters proposed constructing a $600 million casino in Youngstown that would provide 5,000 jobs.
They argued that the casino would help boost the local economy.
Under current state law, casino gambling is illegal.
A statewide proposal to permit riverboat gambling was defeated in 1996. Local religious leaders argued that gambling takes advantage of the poor and underprivileged.
Berlin said the harness racing at the fair is licensed by the racing commission. He added that he feels the betting could not lead to gambling addiction, as the races are only held three times each year and the individual bets and winnings are small.
A booth at the grandstand accepts $2 bets on the harness racers.
Fairgoers can bet that a racer will take first place; first or second place; or first, second or third place.
Winnings depend on the odds against a harness racer.
The average pay out is about $20.
Berlin added that the popularity of betting on the harness racers has waned in the last few years, as lottery jackpots have increased and casinos have opened in West Virginia
"That all cuts into the betting," he said. "Years ago, this was the only legal betting that was done."
History: Berlin also stressed that the history of county fairs is tied to the history of horse racing.
He said that in the late 1800s, men began to come together in groups to race horses. Women eventually came along and brought food, he said, and the county fair was born.
"It's a tradition that has been going on for 125 years," Berlin said, adding that he can remember harness races being held at the Canfield Fair 50 years ago.
A total of 34 races were held on the half-mile grandstand track at the fair this weekend. Eight racers can compete at once.
Most horses finish the 1-mile race in just over two minutes, Berlin said.

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