Alas, a tragic truth: Hearts and minds alone will not win this fight. As long as Horseracing continues to enjoy obscene amounts of corporate welfare – a.k.a. subsidies – it will continue to exist, no matter how effective we are in shifting public opinion or in reducing the demand for the racing product. Our big challenge on this front, however, is that most people, including the politicians ultimately responsible for them, are utterly unaware of the subsidies and how they work. But that’s beginning to change, as evidenced by Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf’s recent proposal to reclaim some $200 million from Racing and redirect it where it was supposed to go in the first place – education.
The industry, of course, is terrified that this could become a trend; if it does, the bulk of U.S. Racing will fail, practically overnight. When forced to defend, the industry’s argument goes like this: With lotteries, casinos, and now “all-sports betting,” the gambling landscape has dramatically changed. Horseracing, they say, has (unfairly) been put at a competitive disadvantage and needs help leveling the field. Next comes talk of “tradition” and economic impact – “thousands of jobs,” ancillary industries like feed, hay, etc. Never mind that animal racing had a virtual monopoly on legal gambling for decades; never mind that their numbers are mostly pulled out of thin air. This pitch has heretofore been effective, for no politician wants to be on the wrong side of jobs.
Anyhow, rarely do we get honesty on this (which is to be fully expected as this industry’s entire business model is based on a lie: horseracing as sport). So imagine my surprise when HorseRaceInsider – “The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing” – admitted that this subsidy thing of theirs, once exposed, is unsustainable, a sure loser if tried in the court of public opinion. Recently, HorseRaceInsider’s Tom Jicha wrote:
“An existential threat to racing, more ominous than a distressing spate of horse deaths, reared its head again this week. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, in his annual budget message, asked his state’s lawmakers to redirect more than $200 million of casino proceeds, which currently goes to his state’s horse racing and breeding program, to a new college scholarship fund. If the governor gets his way, purses at the state’s horse tracks would decrease by 90%. Pennsylvania HBPA executive director Todd Mostoller was succinct in what this would mean. ‘We would be out of business.’
“Even if [the proposal fails], this is not an idea that is going to go away. [T]he governor is playing a strong hand likely to be enthusiastically received by the masses. There aren’t many politicians who wouldn’t want to go to their electorate on a platform that if we take away money from horse racing purses…we can underwrite the higher education of 25,000 of our children.”
Jicha went on to cite similar dangers lurking in West Virginia (incessant budget problems) and New York (pension issues; “Gov. Cuomo’s disdain for racing”). But then the money quote, coming, I remind, from a prominent racing writer: “To be honest, I’m not sure there is an effective argument against the case Gov. Wolf is making.”
No there isn’t, Mr. Jicha. Preserving a declining industry, as measured by demand (handle, attendance), that abuses and kills sentient beings as a matter of course, at the expense of schoolchildren (or any student) is eminently untenable. In other words, the clock is ticking, and you know it.