Although I’d rather not keep hammering an issue that the average person cares (and knows) little about, the racino question is simply too important to ignore. Here is the indisputable fact: While some races (TC, BC) and some meets (Saratgoa) aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, much of the garden-variety horseracing in the U.S. would have vanished by now if not for state subsidies in the form of slot-machine revenue. Corporate welfare. And for the states without it, desperation is the order of the day. Witness Texas, our second largest state and once a racing leader, but now, one teetering on the precipice.

For years, Texas horsemen have been lobbying hard for “expanded gaming” – installation of slots at their tracks. They need slots because without them, they can’t compete. People want casino gaming; the $2 bet is very 20th Century. The numbers, according to a recent Dallas Morning News article, are grim: Attendance at Texas tracks is less than half of what it was in 2000; in that same time span, total wagering in Texas and on Texas races has plummeted from $908 million to $361 million. In short, it’s dying, a reality that Ray Paulick calls “sad.” Sad? Mr. Paulick remains delusional.

What is sad, is that states (NY, OH, PA, et al.) continue to succumb to racing’s pity plea – save us, for jobs, for nostalgia. This is the tack successfully used in neighboring Oklahoma, with predictable results. Remington Park, says President Scott Wells, “had the padlock ready to put on the door” before it was allowed to install VLTs. Now, the horse people – who are legally entitled to a share of the booty, booty that would otherwise be flowing to state coffers (for education) – laugh all the way to the bank: Bolstered by 750 machines, Remington purses average roughly $260,000 per day, or about double that of Lone Star in Texas. And all the while, handle and attendance continue to decline.

The Dallas Morning News sums it thus: “It’s becoming more and more evident that traditional horse racing, on its own, can’t compete in a world with so many other entertainment and gambling choices. Some wonder how much longer the sport — and industry — will last, especially if it doesn’t get help from the Legislature.” To which, I reply:

Texas, let the market be what it will be. And if racing can no longer subsist on its own, let it die, like so many other antiquated industries before it. Not only is that our American way, but when racing’s final history is written, you, Texas, will be on the right side of it.

Would that scenes like this at Lone Star Park are no more…

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  1. What is hurting the horses the most-and excuse me if I throw all the business jargon to the wind- is the fact that live racing has to be coupled to casinos for the casinos to obtain their licenses. Live racing and casinos are not a natural fit.There was a huge fight when Aqueduct was turned into one. At tracks like Mountaineer and Thistle Down, for example there is winter racing. Not only is there winter racing but there is night time winter racing of Thoroughbreds. This used to be heavily frowned upon and tracks located where there was snow didn’t run Thoroughbreds on the frozen snowy ground. They have always run Standardbreds and I don’t approve of this either, but at least it is a bit safer than Thoroughbreds running at break neck speeds in the clotted snowy, frozen silt tracks. From my observations, hardly anyone WATCHES the live racing at these tracks. Everyone is in the casino, playing the slots or wagering at the terminals up in the enclosed heated clubhouses and drinking. This is a fine form of entertainment for some and I don’t begrudge people this activity. What I do not understand is why our poor lower level claiming horses are forced to run outside in snowstorms putting their lives at risk so that they can be totally ignored by the patrons. They break down frequently, suffer catastrophic injuries and go around on the claiming carousel for what? Mostly because some misguided politicians won’t decouple live racing to casino gambling. This is a folly. The people in these casinos wouldn’t give a fig if they were betting on fantasy stables, barely glance outside and don’t care what happens to these real live animals who put their lives (and their jockeys lives) on the line in inclement conditions. There are many of us who have been advocating for the decoupling of racing and casino gambling and fighting the propagation of racinos. It’s even worse for the greyhounds and after a great deal of lobbying we saw our decoupling legislation go down to defeat in Florida just two days after Easter this year. I don’t begrudge people gambling on anything, if it’s fun do it- but people who want to go to a casino can go to one. They can play slots or roulette or craps or whatever- there doesn’t need to be ignored live horses and greyhounds running around outside under ersatz and dangerous conditions to justify their evening’s entertainment

    • Thank you, Susan. They don’t want to decouple because those lower-tier tracks (and almost all harness tracks) will not survive without slots revenue. It’s the power of the racing lobby. But no matter how they couch it (state-industry “partnership”), it’s welfare. Period. And the thing is, the track owners would be happy to decouple; then, they could simply run gaming centers without the burden of archaic live racing.

      • Interesting to see how much “power” racing has when it comes to money! However, when it comes to even a modicum of protection for the horse it is powerless ! Everyone can agree on the money issue but on very little else.
        I believe the main reason for not having a national racing commission is to keep the industry fragmented so there can be no encompassing rules in terms of drugs, protections for horses as well as meaningful consequences for what, in many instances, amounts to criminal behavior. With a national commission it would be much easier for racing to be held accountable for all the wrongs.
        Racing likes the current situation which allows for the cheating and abuse to continue unabated. There is no accountability.

  2. I agree Patrick. Yes racino profits are used to expand purses for claiming and lower level allowance races. Sadly that purse money encourages the claiming game to continue by making the purses larger than the claiming prices on the horses. Thus encouraging cash-strapped horsemen to keep running lower level horses that often have chronic injuries that should be retired. No one is winning at this game-the racinos would rather keep the profits. The horses would be better off as OTTBs or pasture ornaments and the horsemen are barely hanging on, many feeding their horses low quality feed and providing inadequate maintenance and vet care while clinging to a way of life that either needs to be completely overhauled or fade away.

  3. Hi Rose: Yes we shall never be able to protect the horses without national legislation and universal guidelines. I totally concur. The issue of wagering has long been tied to states’ rights in the past as Gaming and Wagering Commissions are state mandated. Each state wants the right to collect their own tariffs on wagering and do with the money as they see fit. While I have no problem with this, there is no mandated fees that are devoted to the welfare and retirement of the horses. States can voluntarily chose to establish these programs or they can opt out. Sometimes an organization exists within the state that contributes money to horse welfare and sometimes one does not. None of this uniformly helps the horses. Some of us are promoting the idea of separating the oversight of the welfare of the horses from wagering as the skill sets required to do one in no way correspond to the other. Horseracing needs a national organization to promote and ensure the welfare of the horses and to establish uniform medication control. I see no issue with states continuing to manage their own gaming regulations as long as each state is compelled to contribute to the welfare of the horses and funds are mandated from takeout to ensure quality care for each horse.

    NYRA has just this past week implemented a mandatory five dollar contribution per start fee be put aside for the support of aftercare. If five dollars of every start fee in every state went towards Thoroughbred aftercare, we might be onto a better way to provide for the horses. It’s certainly not enough but it’s a start. We need to have a foaling barn to grave support system for our horses.

  4. Susan, thank you for your reply. As usual, money trumps the wellbeing of the horse. Some states have very weak anticruelty laws and I believe Kentucky is one of them. Not that anticruelty laws, no matter how strong, appear to help these unfortunates. Considering the horse industry is worth around 4 billion annually to Kentucky it is ironic their anticruelty laws are among the weakest in the nation. That state should be front and center in terms of setting a good example.
    Yes, there is a profound need for national oversight in terms of preventing the abuse of the horse in racing. However, I think it is a pipedream. It would be met with powerful resistance from the industry. Horses cross state lines to compete and are subjected to the different rules of these little racing “fiefdoms”. For instance the nasal strip, legal in most states, is forbidden in N.Y.
    Further, concerning cruelty issues : An incident at Calder, where a horse was beaten by a trainer with a board for refusing to go on the training track, was reported to local authorities and track officials. The local authorities allowed the track to handle the problem. the trainer was suspended for a time but is back training again. Incidentally, the horse had bucked shins and was being forced to train.

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