MFOA leads campaign to defund state subsidies to the harness racing industry

Time for Legislators to Examine the Cascade Fund! 



Following legislation passed in 2003, 39% of slot machine revenue from Maine casinos is allocated to the state in a distribution framework often referred to as the “Cascade Fund.” From 2005-2011, Hollywood Slots distributed $103.2 million of its profits, some to the Fund for a Healthy Maine, the University and community college system and even to the general fund, but over two-thirds of those profits went to the harness racing industry in various forms of support, despite the sport’s precipitous decline in popularity and revenue.  

It is not as if the harness racing industry struggles are anything new. In the early 1990s, the industry was in full panic. Business as measured by the live handle (the total amount wagered on harness racing) was down more than 30% from $45.2 million in 1987 to $29.8 million in 1991. 

The solution to this free-fall? Off-track betting (“OTB”) parlors, neighborhood pubs for fans to gamble on races by live TV. According to news articles at the time, OTB’s were the salvation of the harness racing industry. But 25 years later, both harness racing and OTB’s are withering, with revenues down now to just a scant $4 million. 

Then slot machine revenue allocation was implemented to “rescue” the industry yet again. Since it opened in 2005, Hollywood Slots has distributed over $70 million in slot machine profits to the harness racing industry, directly and indirectly. In  2013, the Cascade Fund gave $10.6 million to the industry. The infusion of revenue has boosted purses and encouraged horse owners to invest in faster horses, but attendance and money wagered on harnessing racing has continued to decline. 

In such times of limited financial resources, should a moribund industry that has faded in popularity continue to be subsidized by the state? It is time for the legislature to re-examine why the state continues to shore up a long time dying industry and determine how these funds could be more prudently allocated.

Moreover, harness and thoroughbred racing has a well-documented checkered history. Whipping, kicking and beating that cause visible injuries to the horse are common in harness racing and the penalties are too lax to deter the abuse; fines are routine and part of the cost of doing business. 

In addition, doping and the use of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs to enhance performance or allow an injured animal to race is all too common, but sufficient oversight to stop it is lacking. Drugging has a long and shady past in the horse racing business; it’s all about the money. 

Breeders continue to over breed horses in the hope of making even more money, with no consequences for their role in contributing to excess population. Horses are useful only if they win. After a short life of racing, particularly if strong performance is lacking, many racers are shipped to auction and sent to horrific horse slaughter plants in Quebec. 

The industry needs an outlet to rid itself of animals that are deemed unproductive; an animal that has served mankind so long, so well and so nobly is made a disposable commodity.

Thousands of horses die on American race tracks each year. Just a month ago, the New York Racing Association reported the death of 12 horses in 22 days of racing at Aqueduct. Even though that is thoroughbred racing, the standardbred horses used in harness racing suffer from the same issues of cruelty, doping and slaughter.

The time is long overdue for our Maine legislators to examine the merits (or lack thereof) of the state funneling millions of taxpayers’ dollars into an outdated, inhumane, discredited and dying industry that has shown a precipitous decline for decades, despite the state’s significant financial attempts to revitalize it. These monies could certainly be better utilized if they were directed toward economic development, education, infrastructure, or other worthy services, many of which have been significantly reduced or eliminated during recent budget revisions.

by Robert Fisk, Jr.,  April 25, 2015



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