Published by DEFECTOR »
In February of last year, Sharon Ward listened intently as her former boss, Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, outlined his spending priorities in his 2020 budget address. Halfway through, she sat up as Wolf proposed a “historic” $200 million investment in tuition for 25,000 students at Pennsylvania’s state universities. They’d be paid for, Wolf said, “by repurposing existing tax dollars that are right now flowing into the Horse Racing Development Fund.”
The fact that horse racing receives this much public assistance in a single state was news to many outside the sport. Not to Ward, though, a policy expert who’d led Wolf’s budget office in 2015. She knew the industry’s Race Horse Development Fund existed, which, she says, “is more than you can say for most people—including most people in the legislature.” But now she was about to learn the full scope of that subsidy and just how it was spent.
Wolf’s plan would still leave $40 million annually for racing. But it’d be a big cut: Since 2004, when Pennsylvania legalized slot machines at racetracks, up to 12 percent of slot revenues, or almost $3 billion, has gone into the fund, most of which was then paid out as race purses.
Ward, 63, was asked by Susan Spicka, the executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a group that advocates for public schools, to write about the Race Horse Development Fund. A former schoolteacher, Spicka had ploughed a lonely furrow for years campaigning for moving money out of racehorse welfare and into education. She now saw an opportunity to reach a larger audience, and she knew there was nobody better than Ward at piecing together the state’s finances. But Spicka didn’t realize Ward already knew her way around a racetrack.
“I’m probably one of the few mothers in America who taught all three of her children how to read the Racing Form,” Ward says.
“The more I got into it, the more shocked I became,” Ward told me. “This is an industry that is completely hidden from public view. They’ve got a direct cash pipeline and they don’t want anybody to know about it.”
It’s a story rarely told outside the racing industry, and understandably so: Horse racing is propped up by tax dollars from casinos that have nothing to do with what happens on the track or at the betting windows. Although the sport loses public interest with each passing year, at least 24 states, almost three-quarters of those with racing, directly subsidize it with public funds. Based on publicly available information and statistical analysis, the total is likely close to $1 billion annually.
• There is much more to this riveting report. Keep reading »
It is a safe bet that wherever there is horse racing, taxpayer dollars are used to keep it afloat, to one degree or another, with subsidies such as the above when the State should be spending that money for education and programs that can assist the citizens of that State.
How can this be? Who are these people who are able to get this done? Shame, shame and more shame on the politicians, lobbyists and elected officials who keep this sort of charade going.
In the meantime, what about that raid on the backside of Parx Racing carried out by the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission which revealed “a significant amount of contraband.” Taxpayer dollars are used to keep that place afloat?
So we come back to where we started — with the title of this article: “Slots are not saving racing. Neither are billions in public subsidies. Can anything?”
Racing’s demise cannot come quickly enough for the horses, or for us.