Is Horse Racing Still Too Big To Fail?
7 min read
fairly easy
Although the sport loses public interest with each passing year, at least 24 states directly subsidize it with public funds, likely close to $1 billion annually. "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."
Slots aren't saving racing. Neither are billions in public subsidies. Can anything?

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.

Ward's mother grew up so close to…
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