Even when this industry is running “sham” races, it can’t help but kill. When reviewing the FOIA documents I recently received from Florida, I came upon a death at a track I had never heard of – Oxford Downs. Turns out, what Oxford really is is a cardroom/simulcasting center that runs a handful of Quarterhorse “races” a year in order to retain its license for the lucrative gaming. A quick search brought me to this Paulick article from 2014 explaining how some slimy businessmen have played the system, and how the state of Florida – or more specifically, the oversight agency for racing (which is what makes this an industry kill) – allows it to happen. In any event, here is the report I received on a horse named Hawks Linda Lou:

“On this date [June 14] at approximately 12:14 P.M. before race #3 the horse flipped and fell while being saddled for racing, hitting its head on the ground. The horse was immediately rendered unconscious and shortly thereafter expired. As the track veterinarian for Oxford Downs…I was summoned to the barn area, arriving at the site of the incident within approximately 2 minutes. At that time the horse did not have a corneal eye reflex and was demonstrating postmortem neuro-muscular spasms…the state veterinarian arrived and agreed that the horse had expired.”

Hawks Linda Lou was a 9-year-old mare who hadn’t run a legitimate race in over two years – her last one being a last-of-10 in a $5,000 claiming at Hialeah in February 2015. Vile. And on this, I think even Mr. Paulick would agree.

(While I do consider this an industry casualty, it must be said that Hawks’ death is directly attributable to Florida’s inability/unwillingness to “decouple” animal racing from other forms of gaming. That is, it’s high time that that state stops making it a requirement for license holders – for table games, slots, etc. – to run races that, with the possible exception of Gulfstream, the public cares little about. These racinos – combination racetrack/casino – are corporate welfare for a dying industry. Even if the cruelty part of this fails to resonate, you should be outraged that money that should be flowing to things like education is instead lining horsemen’s pockets.)

The headline from the June 28 edition of The Legislative Gazette says it all: “Assembly and Senate pass bill to give Vernon Downs a five-year tax break, averts shutdown.” The article goes on to explain that the measure will save the track an estimated $4 million per year. Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law: “To be clear, I am 100 percent supportive of Vernon Downs and stand ready to sign a bill that will protect people’s jobs and ensure the viability of the facility.”

Some background: Vernon Downs, like all of the other six harness tracks in the Empire State, has been on life support – racino slots – for over a decade now. Simply put, the harness tracks (and Aqueduct and Finger Lakes) were unable to compete with casinos and lotteries. Revenue was plummeting. So they petitioned government for relief – enter Video Lottery Terminals, taxpayer-provided subsidies for the racing industry. Corporate welfare.

In the case of Vernon, the state’s largesse wasn’t enough and closure, apparently, was imminent (September). True to form, the racing people cried about lost jobs (300, they say), and politicians would rather contract pink eye than be portrayed as insensitive on a jobs issue. So instead of allowing the free market to function as intended – which it has been here: “part-owner Gary Greenberg says customers are going to other gaming establishments such as Turning Stone, Rivers and Del Lago casinos” – we have a (further) bailout. Now to be clear, there may indeed be businesses or industries that are too big to fail, but a rinky-dink harness track in western NY is most definitely not one of them. Bottom line, this is America, capitalism; it’s not within your charter, Governor Cuomo, to “protect jobs” that time has passed by or to “ensure the viability of [a] facility” that on its own is inviable.

In the meantime, while those (supposed) 300 jobs are being “saved,” horses will continue to be enslaved, exploited, abused, and, yes, sometimes killed (the Gaming Commission reports 10 dead at Vernon since 2009, though surely there have been more). But that, of course, is not the end of it. For those who do make it off the track alive, it’s often just another form of merciless servitude that awaits (Amish farm, e.g.); worse still, many (most?) of the horses now, or who will be, racing at Vernon Downs will meet brutal, violent ends at slaughterhouses north and south.

So not only are we – the taxpayers – bailing out (again) a horse track, keeping it alive when it should be (and actually once was) dead, but worse, we are subsidizing animal cruelty. For shame…

So-called “Mohawk Valley Nine” – the state legislators who spearheaded the bill – but especially one Jim Tedisco. The long-time assemblyman, now senator has crafted a reputation as an “animal advocate”; in fact, his Senate bio brags that “[he] made history by creating the first-ever NYS Animal Advocacy Day.” Apparently, however, his “advocacy” stops at dogs and cats.

Legislature at large.

Governor Cuomo (his contact form, should you be so inclined).

New York State.

(full Gazette article)

Highlights from a recent report by the New York State Comptroller’s Office:

In October 2011, Resorts World New York City Casino (Resorts) opened adjacent to Aqueduct Racetrack. According to NYRA’s Franchise Agreement (Agreement), a percentage of Resorts’ Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) revenue is directed to NYRA for enhanced purses, operational support, and capital expenditures. The Agreement directs that NYRA receive VLT funding until 2033 unless the franchise is terminated before that time. However, the FOB stressed the need for NYRA to develop a plan to become profitable without reliance on VLT subsidies.

NYRA’s overall financial condition, as a result of VLT revenue subsidies, is sound. However, NYRA’s traditional racing operations (which exclude the VLT revenues) have generated multimillion dollar annual deficits. Excluding VLT revenues, NYRA would have generated cumulative operating losses of $109.3 million from 2010 through 2014 (or an average annual loss of about $22 million). Moreover, NYRA has not developed a sufficient plan to make operations profitable without VLT subsidies.

Translation: VLT subsidies make NYRA – which in addition to Aqueduct, includes more prestigious Saratoga and Belmont – profitable. Without them, Thoroughbred racing in NY is failing. (Cheap Finger Lakes also stays in the black through racino cash; all seven harness tracks, too. In fact, I hold that sans racinos, those eight would have been shuttered by now.) Failing – at a clip of about $22 million/year.


End the corporate welfare, NY. And if Horseracing can no longer subsist on its product alone – and it clearly cannot – let it go the way of myriad other American industries that time passed by. As a further incentive, the Empire State will no longer be in the business of sanctioning equine cruelty/killing. Imagine that.

(Previous post on NY’s racinos – “Feeding at the Slots Trough”)

From the Les Bois Park website:

Dear Les Bois Park Fans,

As you may be aware, we will be closing our Turf Club Bar & Grill and Simulcast Facility, effective end of day on Sunday, March 20th. After being granted the simulcast license in December, Treasure Valley Racing kept simulcast operations going in order to mitigate the overhead costs of keeping Les Bois Park open during this time when the future of live racing remained uncertain and the horsemen were pursuing a solution. But the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee has elected not to hear the Idaho Horsemen’s gaming commission bill this session. In the absence of another revenue source, we don’t believe running Les Bois Park is financially viable and therefore are closing down all operations.

(That “another revenue source” they seek is actually one they previously had – “instant gaming machines.” The legislature, however, feeling they were duped by the racing people, took the machines out after rightly determining that they were, for all intents and purposes, slots; slot machines are illegal in Idaho. So it does not appear that the gift – the subsidy – is coming back.)

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Good news, indeed. But as sure as night follows day, the horse people ever refuse to go quietly. It’s the same old, tired script: Start by claiming victimhood at the hands of an unjust state; underscore the prospect of wrecked economies should Racing be allowed to fail; sprinkle in a healthy dose of racing-as-an-irreplaceable “tradition”; and finally, demand redress from – to be saved by – that state. In a Messenger Index opinion piece penned by horse owner Ed McNelis, the fatuity flows freely:

“Legislation was passed in 1964 that allowed pari-mutual [sic] wagering at tracks in Idaho. This was passed to help grow the horse industry in Idaho. The state lottery was approved and eroded the funding from the horse industry due to its wide spread access and convenient delivery system. The legislature’s goal of enhancing the horse industry and local economies was greatly diminished when they put the STATE in the gaming business. They never took steps to fix what they had broken when they took away the funding from the horse industry by passing the lottery.

All this is further compounded by the passage of Indian Gaming which took away even more funding from the horse industry and the small communities where it resides. The voice of the horse industry became weaker as the STATE lottery and Indian Gaming got stronger and took away the funding generated by wagering on horses. The Legislature had put themselves in direct competition with the very industry they had set out to help grow and prosper.”

Well. For decades, Racing enjoyed a virtual monopoly on legal gambling; all was right with the world. Then, alas, the market was opened – competition, the cornerstone of our capitalist society – and Racing paled against the more attractive products (an attraction enhanced, as McNelis freely admits, by “[a] convenient delivery system”).

More egregious, though, is McNelis’ slick (or is it ignorant?) substitution of the word “funding” for revenue (he does this four times in two short paragraphs). In point of fact, that shifting revenue is simply the gambling dollar going elsewhere – “taken away,” as it were, not by the big, bad state, but by the consumer, the buying public.

He continues:

“The horse industry is part of agriculture – the number one industry in our state. It generates over a billion six hundred thousand dollars in economic value to the state’s economy each year and has huge potential. Most of this goes to small communities where it is greatly needed. Small communities are always under economic pressures and need funds for their fair grounds and youth programs.”

First, again being crafty, McNelis makes it seem like the horse industry, as opposed to agriculture in the whole, generates “over a billion six hundred thousand dollars in economic value.” Second, and more important, of what relevance is “economic value” when the industry in question is moribund? If the “horse industry” is no longer viable, it should not fall to government to provide life support. Perhaps if this were 2008 and the teetering industry was banking…but it’s not. It’s horseracing. Enough said.

But even more shameful than assuming the victim role or economic scaremongering is conflating the “horse industry” – that is, the whip-forced racing of horses for $2 bets – with history, tradition, nature, and, yes, the future of our youth…

“Urbanization further drowned out the voice of small communities and agriculture of which the horse industry is a part. History was forgotten. Facilities and youth programs came under severe pressure as funding disappeared when the STATE lottery and Indian gaming eroded income that had gone to the horse industry.

While Idaho is becoming more urban it is a very desirable place to live because of the outdoors and life style. Each day facilities like our fair grounds get more depleted. Our huge army of volunteer leaders who make our youth into solid citizens through 4H and other programs cannot find funding… The disappearance of these programs, leaders and young people who grow and blossom as a result is a huge and critical loss to our state. …Youth are a primary recipient of benefits generated by the horse industry. …Where can we better invest our money?

The horse industry in our state is a vital industry and part of our history, lifestyle and the very fabric of our communities.” (McNelis’ entire article here.)

Idahoans, don’t fall for it. Racing is not, nor has it ever been, something special. It is a vile gambling business that kills – either on the track or in the slaughterhousethousands of horses annually. And judging by the empty stands and idle windows, not one you want or need any longer. The time has come. Let it die.

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Fact: If not for the corporate welfare it receives in the form of slots revenue, much of American racing would collapse. Particularly hard hit would be the harness end. Currently, there are 14 harness tracks in NY, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In my estimation, all 14 would vanish – virtually overnight – without their subsidies. Simply put, the good old days of the 20th Century when racing enjoyed a practical monopoly on legalized gambling are gone forever. The competition (full-service casinos, state lotteries) is killing them. In Illinois, horsemen have been crying for a legislative lifeline for years – to no avail. I have twice previously written on this:

“Illinois Should Let Racing Fail” (October ’13)

“Illinois, Let Racing Fail” (October ’14)

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And now, it appears my hope is coming to pass. Almost 70 years after it first opened for business, Maywood Park shuttered its betting windows this past Friday; Balmoral, Illinois’ only other harness track, is slated to close by year’s end. Good news, indeed. Predictably, not all feel the same. In an NBC Chicago article from last week, the horse people warn of terrible things to come. Some excerpts:

Trainer Angie Coleman: “They [families who live on the backstretch] are going to lose their home. These kids are not going to have school. They are going to be displaced.”

Illinois Racing Board Commissioner Kathy Byrne: “It’s a crisis of decency. These people need to be treated decently.”

Coleman: “It’s very much a reality [that some horses will eventually go to slaughter].” Worse, says Byrne – “sound, healthy horses.”

“Worried” trainer Hosea Williams is even more definitive: “Yes, yes there will be horse slaughter involved.”

Although the article adds the perfunctory counter at the end – “executives at the Illinois Racing Board strongly disagree that any horses will go to slaughter” – the damage had already been done. To read this piece of (what now seems the norm) media sensationalism is to comprehend a terrible injustice perpetrated by the Illinois government, an injustice that will leave families homeless and horses butchered.

First, as unfortunate as it is for people to lose their jobs, this is America; businesses and industries come and go all the time. It is not up to government (the taxpayers) to artificially prop the losers – in this case, Illinois Racing (including increasingly precarious Arlington and Hawthorne). Move on. Second, and most abhorrently, the racing industry – both in Illinois and across the nation – has been intentionally sending horses to slaughter for decades. The battered? Sure. But healthy ones, too.

So spare us the inflammatory rhetoric, the deceptions – the lies. For racers to conjure up images of slaughterbound Standardbreds this way, for this reason, is obscene. In truth, it’s but one final exploitation of these hapless animals. Shame, too, falls to the news station (full article here), for this “report” is more than just poorly researched and unbalanced, it is irresponsible.