What have we done in Pennsylvania to help ourselves?

by Murray Brown

This week, governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania came out with his earth shattering (to the equine industry) plan to divert more than $200 million destined for purses and breeders’ awards to education for people in need.

Governor Wolf has put us in a situation which isn’t all that easy to defend.

He says that the money will be better spent on education rather than on purses for horse racing.
Why is this an either/or situation?

Why does the funding for education have to come from an industry which in fact has a great history as a significant part of agriculture and land preservation in the Commonwealth?

To the best of my knowledge, agriculture is still and has been for the longest of times the number one industry in the state.

Why not pick on someone else, like the filthy rich casino industry for example?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because we are likely the most vulnerable.

But as with most situations, there are at least two and possibly more issues involved.

What have we as an industry done to help ourselves?

It’s like William Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar “The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

We — as do most people — have a tendency to place the blame elsewhere.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the blame for our situation rests on ourselves — all of us.

It’s not necessarily because we have done wrong.

But what have we done to preserve our lot?

What have we done to let the populace know who we are and what benefits we bring to the Commonwealth?

Through our lobbyists and sometimes a few in the upper echelons, we attempt to educate and influence our state representatives.

But what do we do to educate the people who these representatives are responsible to — the voters?

My answer would be pretty close to nothing.

Sure there are a few folks such as the Wilder family who put their hearts and souls into it and do just about everything they possibly can to help the business upon which their livelihood is dependent. But for the majority of us, myself included, we don’t do very much.

What have we done to bring people to the racetrack?

If people do not go to the racetracks, they will not become fans. It’s as simple as that.

We cannot have a horse-loving fan base without people seeing our horses and watching them race, preferably in person.

How much of the proceeds of the golden calf that was given to us have we reinvested to the sport’s benefit?

I would say very little.

Whenever the subject of investing a given percentage of the purses for the promotion of the sport comes up, the various horsemen’s associations are opposed.

Heck, our guiding body refuses to even put the question on a proposal to its membership.

The horsemen say promoting racing is not their job, it’s the job and responsibility of the racetracks. In a perfect world that might be the case. This situation is far from perfect.

Overwhelmingly, the racetracks do not even want us. The sooner they get rid of us, the better. We are merely a necessary evil to the casino interests.

We were useful in helping them achieve their existence. But, our time, as far as they are concerned, has come and gone.

Why is Pennsylvania racing, particularly at Pocono Downs and Chester, often viewed both from within and outside of the industry as places where the crooks in the business go to race, when they cannot go anywhere else?

This may not be true, but it is accepted as such by many.

I cannot blame the horsemen for this, but why are we so tolerant of Pennsylvania’s huge takeout? It is a unbelievably strong disincentive for people to go to or wager on our product. Even many of the fans that we now have refuse to bet in Pennsylvania because of the onerous takeouts.

For this, I blame mostly the commission for tolerating these excessive takeouts and to a lesser degree the horsemen for not attempting to do something about it.

The cynic in me says that it is one of the many ways that the casino folks use to show the legislators that racing is a failure in Pennsylvania — existing on welfare that could be put to better use elsewhere.

If governor Wolf’s proposal — which has the potential to also be quickly accepted by other states — is passed, we may be doomed.

Will we as horsemen do something meaningful to prevent it happening?

The optimist in me says I hope so.

The pessimist says, I fear not.

Have a question for The Curmudgeon?
Reach him by email at: hofmurray@aol.com.