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’s 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.)

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.

aqueduct-race-track-casino

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”)