Earlier this month, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an editorial criticizing the subsidization of the Pennsylvania horseracing industry. Good, yes. Unfortunately, it did not go nearly far enough. So, in the interest of presenting the full picture, I wrote a letter to the editor, to which I received no reply. Thus, I publish it here:

I would like to thank you for your recent editorial decrying the corporate welfare to the Pennsylvania horseracing industry. As the founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to ending horseracing in America, I am certainly aware of this sadly under-reported issue. As you so accurately point out, racing is indeed in decline; the subsidies propping up Keystone State tracks is an all-too-common theme across the country. Here in New York, for instance, it is no exaggeration to say that without the largess from Video Lottery Terminals, all seven harness tracks and likely two of the state’s four Thoroughbred tracks would have been shuttered by now. But there is another element to this story – that is, the moral one.

In each of the past three years, I have placed FOIA requests with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture seeking information on racehorse deaths. What I have found, and reported – in gruesome detail – on my website, is that from 2015-2017, 290 horses died on or at Pennsylvania racetracks. 290. (Nationally, I estimate that there are over 2,000 track-related kills every year.) And that’s almost surely understated, as countless other “catastrophically injured” horses are euthanized back at private farms or after being acquired by rescue groups. Even worse, scores more (indeed, most) of the “retired” are brutally and violently slaughtered once this industry deems them expended. So in addition to diverting funds that could be used for the public good to an archaic business, the commonwealth is also sanctioning the killing of beautiful, intelligent, sensitive creatures – and all for nothing more than $2 bets.

Sensibilities on animal matters are clearly changing: Ringling is dead, SeaWorld, owing mostly to the movie “Blackfish,” is desperately hanging on, and greyhound racing is on life support (currently being kept alive by, you guessed it, subsidies). End the welfare, yes. But also end the exploitation; end the cruelty; end the killing.

End horseracing.

Patrick Battuello
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs
New York

From the Daily Racing Form, October 26:

“The Pennsylvania Legislature…approved a massive expansion of gambling as part of a $32 billion budget package sent to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature. The measure does not require new gambling sites to subsidize horse racing and breeding industries in the state. Unlike existing casinos in Pennsylvania, the new casinos will not be required to contribute a portion of their revenues to the state‚Äôs Thoroughbred and harness racing industries. Combined, those two industries receive approximately $250 million a year in breeding and purse subsidies from the existing casinos, an amount that could be threatened if gambling dollars migrate to new locations or the online sites.”

Excellent, indeed.

It is common knowledge that once this corporate welfare begins to dry up, much of horseracing – including almost all of the harness variety – will disappear. Hence, their palpable desperation. Look, we live in the greatest free-market economy the world has ever known; businesses and industries are supposed to sink or swim based solely on the merits of their goods and services. It should not be in the state’s purview to prop-up businesses that the buying-public has already passed judgement on (racing is yesterday; casinos and lotteries are where it’s at). So while this is a positive development, would that Pennsylvania take the next logical step and strip Racing of all – 250 million dollars’ worth – its subsidies. If and when that happens, it’ll be but a matter of time till I can add the likes of Parx, Penn, Presque Isle, etc. to this list.

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.)