The finish line. Pennsylvania Horse Racing. BILL DENVER/EQUI-PHOTO.

Even if by a nose, horse racing must become self-sufficient


You may at first wonder why we would bother to post a Guest Opinion by Russell Redding. First of all, Russell Redding is Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture which oversees the horse racing industry and is also chairman of the Horse Racing Commission. Secondly, his guest opinion lays out the staggering amount of money the State puts into horse racing and likely an indication of what other racing States are doing.

Dialogue on this began when PA Governor Tom Wolf announced his proposal to use about $200 million of annual funds awarded by the State to the flailing horse racing industry to instead fund scholarships for Pennsylvania students to attend Pennsylvania colleges.

Here is Redding’s response.

Guest Opinion by Russell Redding

Over the past several years, the Department of Agriculture has taken hundreds of calls from struggling dairy farmers, desperate for help, as milk prices declined.In response, Pennsylvania invested $10 million to spur innovation and bolster the industry, which is starting to show promise through increased commodity prices, diversification, and enhanced promotion.

In the same time frame, we’ve invested $600 million in horse racing.

Considering the declining public interest, it became clear in 2015 tha thorse racing needed to focus on promoting its sport and broaden its appeal to a younger demographic.It’s why the administration insisted on dedicating marketing funds from the Race Horse Development Fund — under the control of the industry — to promote the sport and reverse the continual decline of the amount of money being bet on racing. The administration also insisted on a medication testing program to be funded by the Race Horse Development Fund to ensure integrity and safety of equine athletes.

The industry has benefited from the accountability and vision.

Three billion dollars later, it is time to ask, where has this investment gotten us?

Pennsylvania’s racing industry is in a better position today than it was in 2015, thanks to the state’s investment.

It could not be clearer that the racing industry is important to Pennsylvania. And now,racing is being asked to support itself.

Governor Tom Wolf has proposed redirecting $200 million annually in slot machine revenue from horse racing, and instead invest it in the Nellie Bly Scholarship fund. This will help financially eligible Pennsylvania students enrolled in state system universities afford the education needed to find meaningful work that will make them self-sufficient contributors to Pennsylvania’s economy.

The governor’s proposal doesn’t leave horse racing cold.

The gaming revenue in the Race Horse Development Fund is a supplement to the purses, so it continues to be on the horseman to increase interest and wagering on their product to increase their purses.

All testing costs will continue to be paid, provided House Bill1983, a measure to remove a sunset provision, passes.

All health and pension benefits continue for horsemen and backside track employees.

And although horse racing is the only agriculture sector that has subsidized marketing, all marketing funds continue.The state will continue investing in growing public interest for racing in Pennsylvania. It’s time for the industry to rely on their racing skills instead of a state subsidy.

The nearly $9.5 million invested in marketing to date is beginning to make a difference.

Horse racing will also continue to enjoy the equine sales tax exemption; Clean and Green preferential tax treatment; investments we make at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine to address a veterinarian shortage; and, support for the Standardbred Sale at the Farm Show Complex.

When asked in 2004 for financial help, Pennsylvania bet on horse racing’s future with Act 71 and again, in 2015, with Act 114.

Now, just as the Commonwealth responded to the needs of horse racing, we need to respond to the needs of our future workforce.

Is this the end of horse racing? It shouldn’t be.

But if it is, we’ve made a very poor public policy decision to — for 16-years— invest in it so heavily. These years should have been the yeast to build a self-sustaining industry.

Russell Redding is secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture which oversees the horse racing industry and is also chairman of the Horse Racing Commission.

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