Yes, Fix Infrastructure Instead of Propping Up the Cruel, Deadly Horseracing Industry

Last month, I posted about our victory in stopping a proposed track in Sturbridge, Mass. But with millions in state gifts still available, the racing people are sure to keep trying. Hence the need for continued vigilance. This is why I appreciate the following column by former Boston mayoral candidate Bill Walczak in the Dorchester Reporter:

Politics is about choices. I remember my mother telling me to tell whoever was calling on our phone that she wasn’t home, saying later that it wasn’t a lie because she wasn’t home for that person. When government officials tell us that they don’t have money for maintenance of the MBTA, or funding K-1 or K-0 classes, or universal daycare, or all the other things that we’re told we cannot have, they’re not telling us there isn’t money; they’re telling us there isn’t any money for those things that matter to us.

In my nearly 50 years living in our city and state, I have lamented that maintenance of infrastructure is not one of our Commonwealth’s strong suits. I’ve seen parks, roads, bridges, and the MBTA re-built only to have to wait until they have decayed and need major renovation before they are fixed again. Next time you’re on the T, take a look at JFK/UMass station with its spalling bricks, rusted beams, and chipping paint. A couple of months ago, a man fell to his death by falling through a rusted-out stairway that connected to that station.

It’s not just JFK/UMass station. Our trains are derailing, our escalators are malfunctioning, and, despite the fact that Savin Hill, Fields Corner, Shawmut, and Ashmont stations were re-built just 10-to-15 years ago, these stations are decaying structurally and need work urgently. The state clearly does not allocate enough money to keep our stations and trains safe and well maintained.

Where are we going to get the money? How about horses? Welcome to the Race Horse Development Fund.

When the state’s gambling bill passed in 2011, during the Great Recession, the goal of the legislation was to direct money into cities and towns. And horses. Horse racing is a major beneficiary of the gambling legislation. Why?

Speakers of the Massachusetts House of Representatives have typically been very powerful. Horse racing became a beneficiary of the gambling legislation because then Speaker Bob DeLeo wanted to protect the 674 jobs at horse racing tracks such as Suffolk Downs, located in DeLeo’s district, and, as it happened, where his father worked for fifty years.

The legislation requires a portion of the revenue generated from gambling at the two casinos and the slots parlor to be allocated to the Race Horse Development Fund, which, in turn, distributes it to “thoroughbred and standardbred racing facilities to support the thoroughbred and standardbred horse racing industries.”

The result has been a windfall of cash for horse racing. Since money started accumulating from gambling in the permitted casinos and slots parlor in 2015, $103,510,332.14 has been allocated to the Fund, of which $82,879,436.44 has been provided to support horse racing, divided up as follows: $66,303,549, or about 80 percent, for purses, i.e., prize money, $13,260,710, or 16 percent, to “breeder organizations,” which is also mainly for purses, and $3,315,177, or about 4 percent, to health and pension benefits for “horsemen.”

It was on July 30, 2019, that the very last horse galloped across the finish line at the Suffolk Downs thoroughbred horse racing track, marking the end of its 84 years in operation. The money that was slated for Suffolk Downs since it shut down – $20,630,895.70 – remains unspent in the fund because there are no other thoroughbred horse racing tracks in Massachusetts. In fact, there is only one horseracing track left in Massachusetts, at the Plainridge Park slots parlor, and it is a standardbred facility.

The Legislature needs to decide if horse breeders and prizes for the dying sport of horse racing are more important than safe public transit, or early childhood education, or daycare. Eliminating the Race Horse Development Fund and reallocating these dollars to more pressing needs in public transit, or early education, or community college internships would give a permanent funding source to these needed services and programs. Just the $20 million that is in an account designated in part for thoroughbred racing, which Massachusetts does not have, would go a long way in fixing the MBTA’s crumbling stations.

If you’d rather they redirect these dollars to more pressing priorities, tell your representatives and senators.

Hear, hear, Mr. Walczak. Thank you.

5 Comments

  1. Hats off to Mr. Bill Walczak for writing the truth. He certainly learned a very important lesson from his mother!

  2. Massachusetts is one of the worst subsidizers. Plainridge used to race for purses of a few hundred dollars. Thursday is their feature day now. Last Thursday they ran 10 races with total purses of $138,000. The total handle was $120,000. Assuming a takeout of 20% that leaves only $24,000 for purses, track expenses, and profits. Without subsidies they’d still be racing for a few hundred dollars, probably they’d have closed long ago. They seem to be churning through tens of millions annually that could be put to good use. As a former resident of Massachusetts I find this embarrassing.

    • And let’s not forget the thousands of Standardbreds suffering in the kill pens while they wait for their final ride in the most inhumane conditions to be butchered in Mexico and Canada.
      It goes on under the radar day after day with no oversight and ignored by society.
      The horses are not the only ones wearing blinkers…
      This travesty is part and parcel of these subsidies.

      P.S. Compassionate people with no connection to the business dig into their pockets to save a few of these unfortunates while the kill buyers reap the “rewards” of their extortion…
      From beginning to end racing embodies our less than desirable character traits!!

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