In a recent blog post, Craig Bernick, president/CEO of Glen Hill Farm, a major breeding/racing operation, laments that most of his beloved industry remains dependent on the corporate welfare that flows in from slots and other gaming:

“At some point the horse racing industry…stopped caring about gambling on live horse racing. … Without question, horse owners have enjoyed the benefits of expanded gambling in many states via purse supplements. … As great as these benefits are to today’s horse owner, they have warped the sport. Actual gambling on racing is almost inconsequential to running racing in states that have such supplements.

Racetracks are now mostly owned by gaming companies whose aim is to maximize shareholder value. … Since January 1, 2000, the share price of Churchill Downs Incorporated has increased from $7.67 to roughly $140 today for a market cap of $5.6 billion. In that time Churchill has shifted from a horse racing company to a diversified gaming corporation. … While their mission has evolved, it is unthinkable to blame them for doing what is in the best interest of their investors.

“Owners will always push for the highest purses. ‘Protecting the purse account’ is seen as the single most important issue for horsemen’s groups. They’ve been largely successful – purses have stayed level for twenty years, while total races run have dropped by 35%. … The future is likely going to be significantly different.

Racing is facing decoupling – allowing tracks to stop racing while retaining licenses to operate alternative gaming. This has spread significantly across greyhound racing and will shift to Thoroughbreds in the future. The majority of racetracks don’t care about racing. That’s a dangerous sentiment from the perspective of owners and breeders, but it is reality.

“Recap stories from 2019 summarized the overall financial picture of racing in four words – handle down, purses up.

“Gamblers today have so many options…. Wagering on Thoroughbred racing is already down roughly 50% adjusted for inflation over the last 15 years. … Purse subsidies have benefitted many, but we should not expect them to sustain our business indefinitely, particularly as decoupling spreads. Racing needs to be more sustainable on its own. Currently, it isn’t. … Let’s start while there’s still time.”

Good luck with that, Mr. Bernick. The writing, as they say, is on the wall. As more legislators become educated on this egregious corporate welfare (egregious because in propping up an archaic gambling business, states are taking money away from children’s education, infrastructure repair, etc.) and the cash spigot gets shut off, tracks will continue to close. As this unfolds, we Americans will doubly benefit: more money for the public good, and more important – moral progress.

A recent Fox Business article reports that a third player has emerged in the quest to bring Thoroughbred racing back to Massachusetts. (When Suffolk Downs closed in June, it left the whole of New England without a single Thoroughbred track.) But what most of these articles fail to clearly explain is that any potential new track in Massachusetts – whether in Great Barrington, Wareham, or the subject of this piece, Rowley – absolutely requires subsidization – corporate welfare – in order to become reality. That subsidization would come in the form of on-site slots and/or by tapping into the “Race Horse Development Fund,” which itself is funded by the state’s three existing casinos. (To understand why this is corporate welfare, see this editorial.)

Later in the article, we’re treated to everyday industry disinformation. Bill Lagario of the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association: “The dynamics have changed. So many people are betting on their phone and computers that, weekdays, the handle is still healthy, the gambling is going on, but you might not have physical crowds there.” Never mind that the Fox writer noted this just a couple paragraphs prior: “Wagering on U.S. horse racing events experienced a significant decline in recent years to roughly $11.2 billion in 2018 from $16 billion in the early 2000s…”

But then Lagario dispenses with the craftiness and just outright lies: “Nationwide, it is not dead….I don’t see the trend going that way. I see people building tracks, I see people reopening tracks, I don’t see anybody selling a track. To me, that’s a clear sign that the industry is pretty healthy.” Facts, Mr. Lagario, are stubborn things:

(from our website) The following U.S. racetracks have closed since 2000. In this same time span, to my knowledge only two new tracks have opened: Pinnacle in Michigan – which, as you’ll see below, closed after only two years – and Presque Isle in Pennsylvania. It must be noted, however, that Presque Isle is a racino – basically, a casino with a legally-mandated horse track attached. In other words, the demand for the racing product itself is going in one direction.

The shuttered tracks (36 and counting):

Suffolk Downs, Massachusetts, closed 2019 after 84 years of abusing horses
Portland Meadows, Oregon, closed 2019 after 73 years of abusing horses
Hazel Park, Michigan, closed 2018 after 69 years of abusing horses
Les Bois Park, Idaho, closed 2016 after 46 years of abusing horses
Atlantic City Race Course, New Jersey, closed 2015 after 69 years of abusing horses
Balmoral Park, Illinois, closed 2015 after 89 years of abusing horses
Maywood Park, Illinois, closed 2015 after 69 years of abusing horses
Sports Creek Raceway, Michigan, closed 2015 after 28 years of abusing horses
Hollywood Park, California, closed 2013 after 75 years of abusing horses
Mount Pleasant Meadows, Michigan, closed 2013 after 28 years of abusing horses
Eureka Downs, Kansas, closed 2011 after 108 years of abusing horses
Atokad Downs, Nebraska, closed 2011 after 55 years of abusing horses
Northwest Montana Fair, closed 2011 after unknown number of years abusing horses
Yellowstone Downs, Montana, closed 2011 after 65 years of abusing horses
Blue Ribbon Downs, Oklahoma, closed 2010 after 47 years of abusing horses
Dayton Days, Washington, closed 2010 after 122 years of abusing horses
Manor Downs, Texas, closed 2010 after 20 years of abusing horses
Pinnacle Race Course, Michigan, closed 2010 after 2 years of abusing horses
Waitsburg, Washington, closed 2010 after 99 years of abusing horses
Walla Walla Fair, Washington, closed 2010 after 144 years of abusing horses
Western Montana Fair, closed 2010 after 96 years of abusing horses
Anthony Downs, Kansas, closed 2009 after 105 years of abusing horses
Rockingham Park, New Hampshire, closed 2009 after 103 years of abusing horses
Solano Fair, California, closed 2009 after 58 years of abusing horses
Bay Meadows, California, closed 2008 after 74 years of abusing horses
Jackson Harness Raceway, Michigan, closed 2008 after 60 years of abusing horses
Great Lakes Downs, Michigan, closed 2007 after 18 years of abusing horses
Rochester Fair, New Hampshire, closed 2007 after 73 years of abusing horses
Woodlands Racecourse, Kansas, closed 2007 after 17 years of abusing horses
Northampton Fair, Massachusetts, closed 2005 after 62 years of abusing horses
Saginaw Valley Downs, Michigan, closed 2005 after 25 years of abusing horses
Sportsman’s Park, Illinois, closed 2002 after 70 years of abusing horses
Brockton Fair, Massachusetts, closed 2001 after 60 years of abusing horses
Garden State Park Racetrack, New Jersey, closed 2001 after 59 years of abusing horses
Playfair Race Course, Washington, closed 2001 after 100 years of abusing horses
Lone Oak Park, Oregon, closed 2000 after 67 years of abusing horses

The following is being sent to every Pennsylvania legislator in the newly-convened 2019 Pennsylvania General Assembly. Please read and share, and also please consider contacting members on your own. Thank you.

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 my seminal FOIA reporting, I 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, I have documented over 5,000 confirmed kills on my website – cardiovascular collapse, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma; shattered limbs, ruptured ligaments, broken necks, crushed spines.

In addition, likely just as many die 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 vast majority of “retired” racehorses end up brutally and violently slaughtered when deemed no longer profitable – some 20,000 or more annually. In a word, 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 I 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, 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 wholesale 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.

Patrick Battuello, Founder and President, Horseracing Wrongs