Students or horses? The Pennsylvania question

Education advocates want to repurpose Pa.’s generous horse-racing subsidy

May 2021


Open quote

Pennsylvanians favor re-focusing casino tax subsidies — long earmarked for horse racing — to other public purposes, with 83% favoring a switch in the $240 million yearly allocation and 10% preferring continued support for the horse racing industry, according to a new Franklin & Marshall College poll.

The opinion survey, commissioned by Education Voters of Pennsylvania, comes amid a pitched debate over Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to shift funds to his proposed Nellie Bly Scholarship Program. That move is meant to aid tens of thousands of state university students in a high-tuition, high-debt state.

Since 2004, the horse racing fund has directed almost $3.3 billion to underwrite racing activities at the state’s six casino-based tracks, Education Voters of Pennsylvania officials said.

“There is clearly little appetite for taxpayer-funded horse racing,” said Susan Spicka, the group’s executive director. “With so many other more pressing needs, it’s hard to justify continuing this program.”

The education voters group and others have long taken issue with the horse racing subsidy, saying Pennsylvania’s assistance represents the second-largest public subsidy in the nation, second only to New York.

“While public interest in gaming has grown with the expansion of table games, internet, and sports betting, interest in horseracing is in steep decline. Attendance at racing events, the dollars bet, and number of horses bred are all down, despite the large investment of tax dollars,” the group added.

WITF.ORG reports:

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Education advocates are demanding Pennsylvania lawmakers make a choice: students or horses.

They want the state to cut subsidies to the horse-racing industry that top $230 million annually and redirect the funds to students and the State System of Higher Education. Pennsylvania’s Racehorse Development Fund, the most generous in the nation after New York, traces back to 1967 but was vastly expanded in 2004.

According to a new report by the Keystone Research Center, the state has spent more than $3 billion supporting the industry since 2010.

Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said it’s time “for the [horse-racing] industry to stand on its own two feet.”

She said instead, the state needs to redirect funds to education.

“The bottom line is this: Hidden behind the lore and pageantry of horse racing is a crumbling industry,” said Ward, “propped up with funds that have been robbed from our young people.”

According to the Keystone Research Center, taxpayers are, in essence, funding racehorses at three times the rate they are investing in students in state universities.

In 2019, PASSHE students received $5,739 in state subsidies, while the per-horse rate works out to $15,271.

Ward tied this into the state’s plan to merge six state universities into two regional hubs, which a University of Massachusetts study found would cut about 13% of university jobs.

Meanwhile, the report’s authors claim the state’s six racetracks are in decline. Attendance is low, and Pennsylvanians are increasingly betting on horses outside of the state.

“It simply defies logic,” said Ward. Continue reading »

June 2021

Pennsylvania Casino Revenue Should Benefit Education, Not Horse Racing says Poll

Devin O’Connor reporting for writes:

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A new poll in Pennsylvania concludes that more than eight in 10 residents in the state believe tax revenue from casino slot machines shouldn’t be used to support the horse racing industry.

Pennsylvania casinos are subjected to a 54 percent tax on their gross gaming revenue (GGR) generated by their slot machines. Eleven percent of that money is allocated to the Pennsylvania Horse Race Development Fund, which is used by the horsemen for race purses, breeder incentives, drug testing, and regulatory enforcement. 

The state’s 15 commercial casinos support horse racing to the tune of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars annually. A new poll finds that a strong majority of Pennsylvanians want that to end.

Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research says 83 percent of respondents asked about the subsidy answered that the money should be used “for other purposes.” Only 10 percent said they’d prefer the casino slot revenue to continue supporting the horse racing industry. Seven percent said they weren’t sure.

Looks like the handwriting is on the wall for Pa. racing, or the beginning of it anyway. Will the ‘powers that be’ listen to the people though?

We Say

In the meantime, you may be wondering why we are watching this so much. We are waiting for that first domino to fall. . . .

Fund for Horses Logo

Featured image: Starting Gate, Penn Nat’l. Credit: Sean Simmers.

Related Reading

1,400 dead horses, a fading sport, and huge subsidies — Pennsylvania horse racing faces a reckoning, 17th June 2021 »

Slots are not saving racing. Neither are billions in public subsidies. Can anything?, 8th June 2021

Raid finds ‘Significant Amount of Contraband’ at Parx: Raid carried out by the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission, 26th May 2021 »

PA Gov. Wolf’s move to end horse racing subsidy a good bet, 17th February 2021

2 thoughts on “Students or horses? The Pennsylvania question”

    1. We wouldn’t think so. But we cannot confirm one way or the other. We will see what we can find out.


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