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Subsidizing horse racing: Time to end fund's run

| Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Eric Goodell, 42, of Breinigsville, Lehigh County, maneuvers in the sulky as he drives Spaghetti Eddie in the second race at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Spaghetti Eddie is owned by Winchester Baye Acres Inc. in Powell, Ohio.

With Pennsylvania's fiscal shortfall perhaps topping $1 billion, the GOP-controlled House's budget would eliminate $56 million-plus in corporate welfare from general fund spending. But with overall corporate-welfare spending at $800 million, cuts also should be made beyond the general fund. The $250 million Race Horse Development Fund is an obvious target.

The fund “primarily finances purses (prizes) for horse races,” notes Commonwealth Foundation senior policy analyst Bob Dick. One reason to eliminate it — as the Tribune-Review reported in September 2015 — is how much of that prize money benefits out-of-state horse owners, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the United Arab Emirates' billionaire vice president and prime minister. The state's Independent Fiscal Office has since “found nearly 30 percent of all prize money was spent outside of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Dick says.

All that corporate welfare hasn't done much for Pennsylvania's horse racing industry. A state Gaming Control Board report shows it “continues to struggle,” according to Dick, with “attendance, gross terminal revenue, and taxable handle (wagers) … all down from 2015.”

Horse racing's constant need for public subsidies suggests it has problems that no amount of money from Harrisburg can fix. It's not showing much return on Pennsylvania's prize-money “investment.” And why prop up this industry when so many others struggle?

It's time for the Race Horse Development Fund to cross the finish line — permanently.

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