Yesterday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a budget that would divert some $200 million in horseracing subsidies to education: “I’m proposing a historic $200 million investment in scholarships for the young Pennsylvanians attending our state system universities. And we’ll do that by repurposing existing tax dollars that are right now flowing into the Horse Racing Development Fund. Let’s bet on our kids instead of bankrolling race horse owners.”
(Pete Peterson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, said this, in the Daily Racing Form, in response: “If approved by the legislature, this raid would result in the end of horse racing in Pennsylvania by eviscerating the primary funding source for the purses [90% of purse cash comes from slots and other gaming] and breeder incentives that serve as the lifeblood of the industry.” A “raid”? Please. But let’s hope Mr. Peterson proves prophetic.)
Hear, hear, Governor Wolf! We have been arguing for this for years: Stop bailing out a dying, cruel industry at the expense of schoolchildren, infrastructure, etc. Early last year, I sent the following to every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly (I have updated with latest figures). Today, it is more important than ever that they hear from us: Pennsylvania House; Pennsylvania Senate. And let’s also express our gratitude to Governor Wolf. (Feel free to paraphrase anything you see below.)
I am writing today in the hope that you might reconsider the subsidies being paid to your state’s horseracing industry. I am arguing this on two levels: First, propping up individual industries runs counter to America’s free-market principles. Myriad trades have come and gone in our nation’s history (horse-and-buggy), with winners and losers determined by the merits of, and relative demand for, one’s goods and services. It should not be in government’s purview to keep unwanted – as decided by the market – businesses afloat. To that, here are some pertinent facts:
Horseracing is clearly in decline: Since 2000, U.S. Racing has suffered a net loss of 34 tracks; all other metrics – racedays, races, “fields,” “foal crop,” and, yes, attendance and handle – are also down. The public is speaking – unequivocally – with its wallet.
With the ubiquity of stand-alone casinos and state lotteries (and soon, all-sports betting), Racing has cried foul, claiming that these new businesses are somehow unfair to them. In fact, prior to the advent of lottery products, Horseracing enjoyed a virtual monopoly – for decades – on legal gambling. Now that was unfair.
In Pennsylvania, according to a 2017 report, the racing industry has received $2.6 billion in corporate welfare over the past decade – $239 million in ’17 alone. Referring to this, The Philadelphia Inquirer, in an editorial, wrote, “If multiple billions can’t turn around an industry, isn’t it time we asked how much longer we’re willing to try before altering the arrangement?” (see also, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial)
Far more important, however, is the moral aspect to all this. In short, horseracing kills horses – lots of them. Through our seminal FOIA reporting, we have determined that upward of 2,000 horses are killed racing or training on U.S. tracks every year – easily six per day; to date, we have documented almost 6,000 kills on our website – cardiovascular collapse, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma; shattered limbs, ruptured ligaments, broken necks, crushed spines.
In addition, every year, hundreds more perish from what the industry craftily calls “non-racing causes” – colic, laminitis, “found dead in stall.” In truth, however, these horses are no less casualties than the ones who snap legs on raceday. And perhaps worst of all, the great majority of “retired” racehorses end up brutally and violently slaughtered when deemed no longer profitable – some 10,000-15,000 Thoroughbreds alone annually. Put bluntly, but accurately, the American horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Yes, carnage.
But it’s even worse. While active, life for the typical racehorse is mean and cruel:
From birth, racehorses are pieces of property – chattel. They are bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their people decide – a stressful, tenuous existence that in and of itself causes pain and suffering: According to the Pennsylvania 2016 FOIA documents, to date the most detailed we have received, virtually every one of the dead horses died with ulcers, most “extensive to severe.”
Racehorses are kept locked in tiny stalls for over 23 hours a day, making a heartrending mockery of the industry claim that horses are “born to run, love to run.”
Racehorses are kept utterly isolated from their peers – an extra layer of cruelty for naturally social, herd-oriented animals.
Racehorses are (obviously) nonconsensually drugged and doped – incessantly injected with myriad performance-enhancing, injury-masking, and pain-numbing chemicals.
Racehorses are utterly controlled and subjugated for the entire length of their “careers.” Indeed, the “race” itself can only be effected through force: nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and, of course, perched humans wielding whips.
In summary, not only is your state diverting much-needed funding for education and other public-good projects to a dying industry, but, in a cruel twist, taxpayers, the vast majority of whom have zero interest in horseracing, are subsidizing unconscionable cruelty and wanton killing. While we would love to see a day when horseracing is banned (like dogracing), for now we are simply asking that the market be allowed to do what it is designed to do. Please do not fall prey to their talk of lost jobs and economic havoc. Horseracing, unlike, perhaps, some other industries (agriculture, banking), is not too big or essential to fail. And if allowed, failure will bring the added benefit of collective moral advancement, as countless horses will henceforth be spared lives of immense suffering and horrible deaths. Thank you.
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs
The ’17 and ’18 (the last two years for which we have full statistics) Pennsylvania Dead:
Parx Racing: 43 dead racehorses
Penn National: 48 dead racehorses
Presque Isle Downs: 9 dead racehorses
Harrah’s Philadelphia: 1 dead racehorse
Pocono Downs: 4 dead racehorses
The Meadows: 2 dead racehorses
Parx Racing: 35 dead racehorses
Penn National: 45 dead racehorses
Presque Isle Downs: 8 dead racehorses
Harrah’s Philadelphia: 4 dead racehorses
Pocono Downs: 2 dead racehorses
The Meadows: 4 dead racehorses