In a recent blog post, Craig Bernick, president/CEO of Glen Hill Farm, a major breeding/racing operation, laments that most of his beloved industry remains dependent on the corporate welfare that flows in from slots and other gaming:
“At some point the horse racing industry…stopped caring about gambling on live horse racing. … Without question, horse owners have enjoyed the benefits of expanded gambling in many states via purse supplements. … As great as these benefits are to today’s horse owner, they have warped the sport. Actual gambling on racing is almost inconsequential to running racing in states that have such supplements.
“Racetracks are now mostly owned by gaming companies whose aim is to maximize shareholder value. … Since January 1, 2000, the share price of Churchill Downs Incorporated has increased from $7.67 to roughly $140 today for a market cap of $5.6 billion. In that time Churchill has shifted from a horse racing company to a diversified gaming corporation. … While their mission has evolved, it is unthinkable to blame them for doing what is in the best interest of their investors.
“Owners will always push for the highest purses. ‘Protecting the purse account’ is seen as the single most important issue for horsemen’s groups. They’ve been largely successful – purses have stayed level for twenty years, while total races run have dropped by 35%. … The future is likely going to be significantly different.
“Racing is facing decoupling – allowing tracks to stop racing while retaining licenses to operate alternative gaming. This has spread significantly across greyhound racing and will shift to Thoroughbreds in the future. The majority of racetracks don’t care about racing. That’s a dangerous sentiment from the perspective of owners and breeders, but it is reality.
“Recap stories from 2019 summarized the overall financial picture of racing in four words – handle down, purses up.
“Gamblers today have so many options…. Wagering on Thoroughbred racing is already down roughly 50% adjusted for inflation over the last 15 years. … Purse subsidies have benefitted many, but we should not expect them to sustain our business indefinitely, particularly as decoupling spreads. Racing needs to be more sustainable on its own. Currently, it isn’t. … Let’s start while there’s still time.”
Good luck with that, Mr. Bernick. The writing, as they say, is on the wall. As more legislators become educated on this egregious corporate welfare (egregious because in propping up an archaic gambling business, states are taking money away from children’s education, infrastructure repair, etc.) and the cash spigot gets shut off, tracks will continue to close. As this unfolds, we Americans will doubly benefit: more money for the public good, and more important – moral progress.