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Slots are not saving racing. Neither are billions in public subsidies. Can anything?

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.

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4 thoughts on “Slots are not saving racing. Neither are billions in public subsidies. Can anything?”

  1. How I hope NOTHING can save this cesspool of cruelty and death i.e. horse racing..
    ..leave it to (too many) soulless humans to enjoy watching animals die for them..
    and for peoples’ greed..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amen to everything you said.

      We are hoping that Governors across the country will begin to disengage from giving horse racing millions if not billions of taxpayer dollars, dollars that could benefit their constituency and not these heinous cheaters, dopers and horse torturers and killers.

      An excuse we have often heard is that a lot of people will lose their jobs. That sounds like a sad tale to the uninformed, but we know better. We hear endless stories of abuse, bullying and mistreatment of racehorses by these same people who are always saying how much “they love them”. They should never be allowed to go near another horse.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant response Gina. Thank you for helping more people to understand the twists and turns this ungodly “sport” takes to survive at someone else’s cost.

    The horses continue to be maimed and dumped whenever they are of no further use to these heartless heathens.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank-you for this informative article.
    Not only does horse racing get obscene amounts of money, but they are non-transparent and secret about it.
    They answer to nobody not even the public who funds them.
    The “horsemen groups” AKA HBPA are predominantly men who sit down with politicians to secure this money, but in the past years they just automatically get it with very little resistance.
    There is rarely, if ever, representatives from the community, education, or other neutral groups during this process.
    These deals are cut in the backrooms and the public is only told about it AFTER the ink is dry.
    Meanwhile, our educators have to fight to justify getting even $1000 dollars never mind 250 million per year.
    It’s clear that the politicians are making a choice to fund racehorse killing instead of educating our children.
    Then there’s this.
    Based on information from an article written by Susan Spicka the horse racing development fund is the ONLY fund that REQUIRES an actual change in the law in order for the state government to transfer funds as needed.
    All other public funds get moved around on a regular basis according to changes and needs.
    For example, if there is a surplus in property taxes that need to go to new water lines than the state government can shift that over when they need it, but not horse racing.
    In fact, when this has been attempted in the past the “horsemen groups” who are the recipients of this cash usually threaten to sue the government for breech of contract.
    So far, most local governments have backed down instead of doing the right thing and ending this debacle once and for all.
    It’s going to take 1 politician to stand up to this insanity and finally END these subsidies or substantially reduce them so they can be reallocated to education.
    Furthermore, with the Covid crisis, our communities needs this money now more than ever.
    Then there are the thousands of voiceless victims who get nothing, but broken bones, pain, suffering, beatings, dumping, permanently maimed and not even 1 cent of mandatory aftercare money is put aside by these “horsemen groups.”
    The racehorses are the biggest losers and it’s revolting what this business does to them as they are kicked to the curb when they are done crippling them or sent to slaughter where most end up.
    I’ve called, emailed, and written Gov. Wolf’s office to show my support for his proposal.
    Every day I think about it and I hope that this goes through because if 1 politician does it then it seems plausible that others will follow.
    Once the subsidies end this vile business is sure to end.

    Liked by 3 people

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