The “National Council of Legislators From Gaming States” is an umbrella organization of the state legislators responsible for the regulation of gaming across the country. The Council is holding its summer meeting in July. A primary area of focus will be horseracing. Here is how the Council is promoting this particular panel on its website:

“Most horse-racing tracks cannot fill all of the races they intend to run. Racing programs are inundated with short fields. Handles are declining proportionately. Racing is not attracting younger fans. A panel of experts will address these serious challenges at the Summer Meeting….”

– cannot fill all of the races
– short fields
– declining handles
– not attracting younger fans

Not even trying to hide it.

Then there’s this from Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak (in the Paulick Report yesterday) as he waits for final approval of corporate welfare for his beloved industry:

“This winter, before, during and after the Nebraska legislative session, I’ve been very outspoken in my efforts to communicate the dire straits that the Nebraska horse racing industry has fallen into. … I hoped to offer increased purses this year but couldn’t. The hard fact is that there is never a day of mutuel handle at Fonner Park that covers our purses for that day. … I remain bent on increased purses and am working all angles to achieve that – whether we have slot reels spinning by our 2023 condition book or not. … Truthfully, without casino operations, it’s a weak outlook.”

Again, there it is. Horseracing, as a rule, is a losing proposition in the 21st Century. Now, if only we can convince those legislators.

As the legalization of sports-betting – that is, wagering on real sports played by autonomous homo sapiens – sweeps across the country (30+ states and counting), the racing people have their greedy, grubby hands outstretched, especially in the states in which they are already being heavily subsidized. This makes sense, of course, for if forced to compete with this newest form (not to mention casinos, lotteries), horseracing will lose every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

It’s a simple fact that with but a few exceptions (Saratoga, Keeneland, et al.), horseracing’s future is dark. And they not only know it; they publicly acknowledge it. In a Star Tribune op-ed on the debate in Minnesota – whether or not to allow the state’s two tracks to take sports bets and thus further (Minnesota is a racino state) subsidize the racing – the author, an executive at Minnesota’s harness track, writes:

“Just consider what has happened in Iowa, a cautionary tale for Minnesota’s two racetracks. Since Iowa legalized online and retail sports betting in 2019, wagering on horse racing has decreased dramatically because consumers are now wagering on other sports. From 2019-21, the live and simulcast handle for Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa, was down 35%. If our state’s two racetracks are excluded from a sports betting expansion, this will jeopardize the future of this industry in Minnesota.”

There it is. Again. Horseracing, as a rule, can’t win the market fairly; so it must cheat.

A small minority of tracks in this country (Saratoga, Keeneland, Santa Anita, et al.) are profitable – profitable meaning they survive on their product alone. The rest are being wholly propped up by corporate welfare. If there was any doubt (though there shouldn’t be), witness the latest from Oregon, where billionaire Travis Boersma has been trying to get slot machines (he calls them something else, but that’s what they are) installed at the state’s lone remaining track, Grants Pass (some history here). That effort, at least for now, has failed. And yesterday, Travis released this:

“As a result of the Oregon Racing Commission’s vote to deny an operating license to The Flying Lark, Grants Pass Downs has lost its economic engine. While we remained hopeful we would be able to host a viable race meet, the uncertainty here and across the industry has resulted in a drastic reduction of racehorses at Grants Pass Downs. At this point, it’s clear running the meet isn’t feasible.”

Excellent, indeed.

Monday, the Coalition to End Horseracing Subsidies in New York (of which we are a part) held a virtual rally, with Edie Falco of Sopranos fame kicking it off:

Representing HW, I gave the following statement:

State Senator Robert Jackson, a bill co-sponsor, said this: “At a moment when our working-class communities so desperately need funding for critical services like education, human services, and economic justice, to prop up a deadly industry that often abuses and neglects the horses in its care and is known for violations of workers’ rights, with $230 million of New York taxpayers’ dollars, is not right.”

Excellent, of course. But not all thought so. The New York Racing Association’s ubiquitous Patrick McKenna: “This is a willful and irresponsible characterization of the state of horse racing in New York offered by groups whose only goal is to destroy the sport. NYRA is as healthy today as at any point in recent memory and sets the industry standard when it comes to safety and integrity.”

While this grows tiresome, it is, alas, all too necessary. NYRA’s kill totals over the past 13-plus years (2009 is the first year the state began publicly releasing data):

2009: 67 dead horses (partial: database went live in March)
2010: 109 dead horses
2011: 85 dead horses
2012: 95 dead horses
2013: 70 dead horses
2014: 79 dead horses
2015: 59 dead horses
2016: 66 dead horses
2017: 78 dead horses
2018: 60 dead horses
2019: 65 dead horses
2020: 83 dead horses
2021: 76 dead horses
2022: 13 dead horses

That, to be precise, is 1005 dead racehorses at the three NYRA tracks since 2009. And these are only the ones disclosed; surely, there were many more who simply fell through the cracks. The average, in case you’re wondering, is 75+/year. Over the past two full years (2020, 2021), the tolls come in at 83 and 76, respectively – higher than the average. In other words, the lie of “reform” and “safety,” yet again. As for Mr. McKenna’s claim of “integrity,” need I really respond?