Fact: If not for the corporate welfare it receives in the form of slots revenue, much of American racing would collapse. Particularly hard hit would be the harness end. Currently, there are 14 harness tracks in NY, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In my estimation, all 14 would vanish – virtually overnight – without their subsidies. Simply put, the good old days of the 20th Century when racing enjoyed a practical monopoly on legalized gambling are gone forever. The competition (full-service casinos, state lotteries) is killing them. In Illinois, horsemen have been crying for a legislative lifeline for years – to no avail. I have twice previously written on this:

“Illinois Should Let Racing Fail” (October ’13)

“Illinois, Let Racing Fail” (October ’14)

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And now, it appears my hope is coming to pass. Almost 70 years after it first opened for business, Maywood Park shuttered its betting windows this past Friday; Balmoral, Illinois’ only other harness track, is slated to close by year’s end. Good news, indeed. Predictably, not all feel the same. In an NBC Chicago article from last week, the horse people warn of terrible things to come. Some excerpts:

Trainer Angie Coleman: “They [families who live on the backstretch] are going to lose their home. These kids are not going to have school. They are going to be displaced.”

Illinois Racing Board Commissioner Kathy Byrne: “It’s a crisis of decency. These people need to be treated decently.”

Coleman: “It’s very much a reality [that some horses will eventually go to slaughter].” Worse, says Byrne – “sound, healthy horses.”

“Worried” trainer Hosea Williams is even more definitive: “Yes, yes there will be horse slaughter involved.”

Although the article adds the perfunctory counter at the end – “executives at the Illinois Racing Board strongly disagree that any horses will go to slaughter” – the damage had already been done. To read this piece of (what now seems the norm) media sensationalism is to comprehend a terrible injustice perpetrated by the Illinois government, an injustice that will leave families homeless and horses butchered.

First, as unfortunate as it is for people to lose their jobs, this is America; businesses and industries come and go all the time. It is not up to government (the taxpayers) to artificially prop the losers – in this case, Illinois Racing (including increasingly precarious Arlington and Hawthorne). Move on. Second, and most abhorrently, the racing industry – both in Illinois and across the nation – has been intentionally sending horses to slaughter for decades. The battered? Sure. But healthy ones, too.

So spare us the inflammatory rhetoric, the deceptions – the lies. For racers to conjure up images of slaughterbound Standardbreds this way, for this reason, is obscene. In truth, it’s but one final exploitation of these hapless animals. Shame, too, falls to the news station (full article here), for this “report” is more than just poorly researched and unbalanced, it is irresponsible.