As I’ve previously written, the massive subsidization (corporate welfare) of the U.S. horseracing industry constitutes a triple wrong: it’s an affront to our free-market system; it cheats schoolchildren out of millions of desperately-needed education dollars; and most important to us here, it allows for the continued abuse and killing of intelligent, sensitive, beautiful creatures. Not surprisingly, I’m not alone on this.

A piece Tuesday on Pennsylvania subsidies ($240 million annually) in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star begins thus:

Whether it’s for funding students at Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities or another purpose, the majority of registered voters in Pennsylvania believe tax revenue from slot machines in the commonwealth should be reallocated away from the horse racing industry, according to a new poll. 

Eighty-three percent of respondents to the June 7 poll by the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College said they believe that the state should use tax revenue generated from slot machines for other purposes. Another 10 percent of respondents said it should continue to support the horseracing industry, and seven percent said they did not know.

“There is clearly little appetite for taxpayer-funded horse racing,” Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, which advocates for quality public education in the commonwealth, said in a statement. “With so many other more pressing needs it’s hard to justify continuing this program.”

We and our petition were also mentioned:

The moral and ethical concerns around horse racing led one national organization to target the industry in May, at the height of derby season, with an online petition calling for Gov. Tom Wolf to end the $239 million in subsidies the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Trust Fund receives. The petition circulated by Horseracing Wrongs, a nonprofit organization advocating for the eradication of horse racing in the United States, had garnered nearly 40,000 signatures as of noon on Monday.

our PA petition

full Capital-Star article

It looks as though harness racing in Florida is soon to be dead. A bill that will decouple – free the track owner from having to hold and subsidize horse races – Pompano Park has now passed the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature. Harness Link put it succinctly: “[This bill] will most likely end pari-mutuel harness racing in the state of Florida, thus bringing an end to Pompano Park after 57 year of harness racing.” In other words, Florida harness people, the jig is up. Your (lucrative) spigot – gaming revenue that should have been going back to the state for education and the like – has been cut off. And that, my friends, is progress. Now, on to the Thoroughbreds.

(The SunSentinel says that a redevelopment plan from Pompano’s owner, Caesars Entertainment, “calls for transforming the Pompano Park property into an upscale retail, dining, office and entertainment hub.” Now doesn’t that sound a mite better than a dirty, seedy racetrack that abuses and kills horses?)

I’ll give Travis Boersma this: The coffee tycoon and new (2019) operator of Grants Pass, the only commercial racetrack left in Oregon, is, if nothing else, a great salesman. Ahead of this past Monday’s meet opening, Boersma told the Paulick Report: “We’ve got up to 1,200 fans coming and that’s a big step for us. We’re ecstatic. It means energy around the grandstand. As far as an intimate track experience goes, I don’t think anybody has something like we have.” (According to NBC Medford, Boersma’s projection missed the mark by quite a bit: only 735 “fans” showed up.)

He went on: “I’ve gone to this track at Grants Pass since I was brought into this life, and so I’ve got these memories and experiences I’ll take with me the rest of my life. To think that horse racing could go away in the state of Oregon seemed tragic to me. And I really started to look at how we could save it, that was the first step. And then the second step: could horse racing live without having to be propped up, and the short answer was yes.” Hmm. “Horse racing [can] live without having to be propped up”? C’mon, Travis, you know that’s not even close to being true. In fact, just last month The Oregonian wrote: “Boersma doesn’t expect the actual horse races to make money. But he’s got a plan to cover any losses: The main attraction at the Flying Lark will be 250 betting terminals known as ‘historic horse racing’ machines.”

Look, the short of it is this: The bulk of U.S. Racing is indeed being – or in the case of GP, will be – propped up by subsidies, corporate welfare. Take that away, take away some 70% of the nation’s tracks. So ignore Boersma’s rap and sap (“memories and experiences I’ll take with me the rest of my life”), he’s in this for the slots cash, not to prevent the “tragedy” of an Oregon sans horseracing. (For the most definitive look at racing subsidies, see Ryan Goldberg’s “Is Horse Racing Still Too Big to Fail?” .)

No matter how the racing industry tries to dress them up, “Instant Racing Machines” – aka “Historical Racing Machines” – at racetracks are, in both purpose and result, the exact same thing as slot machines at those tracks – there to subsidize (prop up) the actual horseracing taking place. These machines are directly responsible for horseracing returning to Virginia (Colonial Downs) in 2019 and keeping tracks alive in various other states, including Oregon.

A recent article in The Oregonian notes racing’s decline in that state, a decline that eventually led to the 2019 shuttering of Oregon’s sole major track, Portland Meadows. If horseracing is to survive (be resuscitated) in Oregon, subsidization is a must, an inconvenient truth for most American tracks. Handicapper/columnist Jonathan Stettin: “Racing is on life support. The decline in fan base has led to an environment where the tracks that survive and thrive are the ones with casinos, slots, other unconnected sources of revenue.” “Unconnected” being the operative word.

Now, the focus is on Grants Pass, a fairgrounds track being revamped by coffee mogul Travis Boersma. According to the piece, Boersma plans on spending some $25 million by the time he’s done. He’s doing this, of course, because of the promise of those “machines.” There’s oodles of cash to be made there – in the racing not so much: “Boersma doesn’t expect the actual horse races to make money. But he’s got a plan to cover any losses: The main attraction at the Flying Lark will be 250 betting terminals known as ‘historic horse racing’ machines.”

Here’s the thing, and with apologies and sympathies to the anti-gambling advocates, we at HW have no philosophical issue with gambling – including “historical racing” – just the kind that occurs on the backs of enslaved animals. So, I propose, why not “historical racing” in lieu of, rather than in addition to, live racing? In addition to means artificially propping up a business that has no business being in business. In lieu of would mean the end of the abuse and killing of horses, and as an added bonus, more cash going back to the state for education and the like. That’s a win-win for the two most innocent, vulnerable members of our society: children and animals.