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

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


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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PA Gov. Wolf’s move to end horse racing subsidy a good bet

PA Gov. Wolf's move to end horse racing subsidy a good bet.


Here is why.


For 16 years, Pennsylvania has been saddled with an obligation to prop up a flailing horse race industry. In 2004, the state legalized gaming in large part to create a channel of money to flow to the Race Horse Development Fund, which supports breeders, owners, horses, farms, jockeys, and other racing-related expenses.

Since that time, the industry has gotten close to $3 billion dollars from the staggering $27 billion in gross revenue from slot machines — that is, the money people lose feeding slot machines all over the state.

That’s a lot of money — about $240 million per year — that should have by now stabilized and improved the sector. It hasn’t.

According to racetrack casino benchmark reports filed with the state Gaming Control Board, almost every data point connected to the performance of Pennsylvania racing shows a decline. The number of wagers, the number of races, the number of horses, the purses paid, and the attendance at tracks: all in decline, a trend going back years.

Layer those problems on top of growing outcry over the treatment and deaths of racehorses around the country. Starting in 2018, for example, a rash of horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in California led one industry commenter to note, “Poorly bred, overraced, exhausted horses being whipped toward the finish line is not a sport; it’s an exercise in sadistic exploitation.”

A report last year by PennLive/Patriot-News revealed that 87 horses died in Pennsylvania in 2018 alone.

Throw in a recent cheating scandal, and we have to ask, not for the first time: Why are we subsidizing this?

Those supporting the industry claim that the money supports agricultural jobs which boosts the state economy, and by funding bigger purses, more people will bet. The reality doesn’t back that up.

With so many critical and human problems this state faces, the unquestioning propping up of an industry that has shown no promise of improving is outrageous.

That’s why Gov. Wolf gets credit for his latest proposal to use about $200 million of that annual money to fund scholarships for Pennsylvania students to attend Pennsylvania colleges. It’s about time.

• Read more at https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/editorials/race-horse-gambling-pennsylvania-scholarships-editorial-20200215.html »

Action Alert

• Pennsylvanians only, please contact Governor Wolf using his Office’s quick and easy form, stating that you agree Pennsylvania should put an immediate end to horse racing subsidies and instead spend that money on education and other beneficial programs. Thank you!

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