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Pa. tax dollars go to worthy cause — cushioning a billionaire's wallet

| Sunday, May 1, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

While Pennsylvania's financial outlook remains bleak, money worries aren't plaguing a certain sheikh.

So of course the United Arab Emirates billionaire is benefiting from the Keystone State's largess.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the UAE's vice president and prime minister. He also owns a global thoroughbred breeding and horse racing stable, apparently because even the ruler of Dubai needs a hobby, and stamp collecting is boring.

One of the sheikh's horses, Frosted, won the 2015 Pennsylvania Derby, an annual event at the Parx Casino and Racing complex in Bucks County. The race isn't as illustrious as the Kentucky Derby, but its $1 million purse probably soothed any irritation the sheikh felt over the absence of mint juleps.

Here's where Pennsylvania's largess comes into play: The winnings wouldn't have been nearly as significant if not for the state continuing to generously subsidize race purses with tax dollars.

Last year, $246 million in taxes on casino slot machines across the state went to the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, according to a recent state Gaming Control Board report. The money was used significantly to enhance purses, provide health and pension benefits for horsemen and assist horse breeding operations.

Those wondering why the state subsidizes the horse racing industry obviously didn't pay attention in their high school civics class. Much like maintaining infrastructure, affording citizens opportunities to have an entertaining night out at the track is a core government function.

Eighty percent of the fund goes to boost purse winnings. Last year, that amounted to a modest $196.8 million.

Consider the money a safety net for wealthy horse owners. If you don't think that net is needed, then shame on you and please recall the words of Pope John Paul II, who once famously said: “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its billionaire sheikhs.”

Besides, Pennsylvania clearly can afford to provide money to people who clearly don't need it.

Sure, Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed raising taxes to make ends meet. But the increases only amount to a paltry $3 billion and only would impact people who have jobs and purchase goods — or smoke tobacco, pay insurance premiums, drill for natural gas and do lots of other stuff.

So don't do a slow burn over Frosted's inflated winnings. What Pennsylvania spent on the horse-racing industry last year is only $37 million more than the $209 million budget allocation proposed this year for the state Department of Health.

That's not unusual. The state typically spends much more on horses than it does on the physical well-being of its 12.7 million residents.

But isn't that a small price to pay to keep a sheikh smiling?

Eric Heyl is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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