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February 6, 2013

Rick Teverbaugh: Horse racing needs support

Horse racing in Indiana dodged a bullet a year ago, but will it be so lucky when the one toting the gun is Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Pence’s proposed budget is calling for an end to all standardbred and thoroughbred subsidies. That would mean the loss of about $50 million to the horse racing industry.

It would completely stunt the growth of that industry in a time when very few industries in this state are showing any growth. It would hurt Anderson’s economy and stature across the country. Neither of those things bothers Pence in the slightest.

In an Indianapolis Star story, his spokeswoman Christy Denault said there was better use for the money. I am not convinced.

The horse racing industry spreads jobs across the state, not just in Anderson and Shelbyville. Some can be found in off-track betting facilities. But there are many more.

Many horsemen have established permanent residence in Indiana once the slot machines were added at Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park. At those training facilities, employees had to be hired. The horses need food and bedding, so farmers in many locations have more customers for their products. The horses have need of medical attention and treatment, so veterinarians need to be hired.

The loss of these subsidies threatens all of those jobs and more. Apparently, those people don’t matter to Pence, either.

Jack Kieninger, president of the Indiana Standardbred Association, told the national publication, Harness Racing Update, “Whenever we have a budget cycle, we’re worried. The state needs the money, and they need every penny they can get and they would love to take it away from the horsemen.

“Although we employ just as many people as the factory that builds cars, since we are scattered all over the place, the impact is not as obvious to people. You can look and see the factory; you can’t look and see that there are 20,000 horsemen raising horses in Indiana.”

The horse racing industry would be on better financial footing if the state hadn’t charged about twice as much to Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park for a license to have slot machines as has ever been charged by a state for those machines. But they paid it with the promise that the subsidies would help them recoup that money. Now Pence wants to renege on that deal.

It isn’t fair, and it shouldn’t happen.

Those who feel the same way should contact their state legislators and let them know. If we do nothing, soon Hoosier Park will be no more important to Anderson than Delco Remy and Guide Lamp now. Hundreds of our neighbors will be out of work, and we will lose one viable entertainment option. It is a bleak but accurate forecast.

Indiana’s horse racing industry deserves a chance to recover from the unreasonable burden placed upon it by state government. It doesn’t deserve a knife placed at its throat, which is the current status.

Sports Editor Rick Teverbaugh’s columns appear twice weekly.

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