The possible decrease of the considerable subsidy that helps to support the ailing horse racing industry is on the minds of horse track operators and breeders.
Currently, twenty state casinos provide a portion of their casino gambling revenues to aid horse owners and breeders, and to help boost prize money, according to the American Gaming Association. The theory being the anticipation of larger purses will attract top level horses and generate more bets thereby helping to breathe life into the horse racing industry which was a popular betting niche at one time. However, due to competition from out of state casinos and budget deficits, some lawmakers are reassessing the subsidy.
Christopher Scherf, executive vice president of the Maryland-based Thoroughbred Racing Associations told media last week, “Every local track and every local horsemen’s group is always worried about that,” and that, “Politicians see someone has money and they figure they can use it. That’s what they do.”
Generally, a percentage of casino revenues are diverted to a state fund with strict usage guidelines. For example, in Massachusetts 75 percent of the subsidy is allocated to the thoroughbred horse racing industry with the remaining 25 percent going to harness racing, of which 80 percent is dedicated to racing purses, 16 percent reserved for Massachusetts-bred horses, and the remaining 4 percent going to industry workers health and retirement benefits. According to the Jockey Club, a leading industry group, subsidies as such are critical to the declining horse racing industry.
Due to the dramatic decrease in spectator attendance, few horse racing tracks are even keeping track of the numbers anymore, according to experts. Regardless of that observation, due in large part to the racing subsidies, in 2014 there was over $1.1 billion in prize money available, generating over $400 million towards purses, according to the Thoroughbred Racing Associations. The subsidies also help to preserve jobs at tracks and farms.
Some of the first states to offer the subsidies are also among the first to make a move to curtail them. Iowa, Indiana and Delaware, among other states, have also debated whether or not to decrease subsidies. Adding to the mix are animal welfare activists who also dislike the subsidies, and suggest they encourage owners who are focused on higher purses to keep racing horses that may susceptible be injured, a claim disregarded by the horse racing industry.