Highly Subsidized US Industries: Horse Racing

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/23/2021 07:44:00 PM
Addled horses may be the least of horse racing's worries if the sport's subsidies take a hit.

As a casual follower of horse racing, I was intrigued by the legendary horse trainer Bob Baffert being barred from participating in the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, due to doping. Baffert has already been cited for doping a number of times, but this time is the most noteworthy, just coming off a Kentucky Derby victory in the sport's most prestigious event. As it turns out, horse racing--in the United States at least--is a dying sport. if the pot of money being contested over keeps shrinking, well, that would help explain why even the most prominent trainers are tempted to turn the odds in their favor through underhanded means. 

Unbeknownst to me, and I suspect most everybody else outside the industry, American horse racing circa 2021 cannot stand on its own... four legs. Probably by invoking nostalgia and tradition, the industry has managed to wangle massive state government subsidies:

It’s a story rarely told outside the racing industry, and understandably so: Horse racing is propped up by tax dollars from casinos that have nothing to do with what happens on the track or at the betting windows. Although the sport loses public interest with each passing year, at least 24 states, almost three-quarters of those with racing, directly subsidize it with public funds. Based on publicly available information and statistical analysis, the total is likely close to $1 billion annually.

New York and Pennsylvania alone account for half of that amount; over the last 15 years, they’ve distributed around $6 billion. Both states also forgo countless millions each year in sales taxes they don’t charge on racehorse purchases, an exemption that doesn’t apply to other kinds of horses.

Throughout the country, horse racing has become so heavily subsidized that it resembles a public enterprise. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the Race Horse Development Fund is the state’s single largest economic development program, and it funds nearly every aspect of horse racing, from purses to support for breeders, health and pension benefits for horsemen, drug testing of the horses, and even racetracks’ advertising costs.

Is horse racing too big to fail, in financial parlance? The emerging backlash is that these taxpayer dollars are going to an increasingly marginal pastime whose patrons are mostly the rich who can spare cash to gamble with when there are so many urgent social concerns:

But the issue isn’t going away, especially not as the pandemic has dynamited state finances, leaving lawmakers with tough decisions. This February, [Pennsylvania governor] Wolf again included a cut to racing’s subsidy in his proposed 2021 budget. And last week, the editorial board of The Philadelphia Inquirer called for the industry to be “put out of its misery.”

“It’s like a giant party on the Titanic,” Ward said, “except the guests know what is coming.” For racing’s dependence on public money, Pennsylvania might be just the tip of the iceberg.

The doping scandal will probably only raise more questions the industry would rather the general public be unaware of. Make no mistake: American horse racing, a pastime for the wealthy, is on the dole in a big way. 

China-Oz Trade War: Higher Ed Next?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/12/2021 06:00:00 PM

Will PRC students soon be an increasingly rare sight on Aussie campuses?

Just when you thought China-Australia relations could get no worse, it seems they find something new to quarrel about. Perhaps the last golden goose Australia has left is its higher education sector, which still (rather amazingly) attracts scores of PRC students. That said, there appears movement afoot in China for recruiters to not promote Australia as a higher education. Anticipating matters may get worse (which is likely given how things are going between these two), Aussie universities are setting their sights on diversifying their international student base. 

Researchers from the Australia National University in Canberra are urging the government to get moving in making their country's universities less reliant on Chinese students:

Dr Dirk van der Kley and Dr Benjamin Herscovitch argue education is Australia’s only remaining export valued over $10 billion annually which is “both reliant on China and which Beijing can target without significant self-harm”. The industry employs thousands of Australians, and is closely linked to the country’s technological competitiveness, the pair say.

Coercion against the sector would significantly impact Australia’s prosperity. “If there was a significant drop in students from China, the revenue and research loss would be impossible to fully replace through other international markets because China is the largest source of globally mobile students,” the authors write. The government would not be able to step in and fill that gap, they say.

Speaking of which, the Chinese government holds more cards in being able to harm Australia's economy given the economic importance of higher education service exports to the PRC and other nations:

The pair point out that media reports already indicate education agents in some Chinese cities were discouraged from promoting Australia as an education destination. Beijing could go further, by fostering negative views of Australia and its universities via the state-controlled media or even ceasing to recognise some or all Australian qualifications.

By recruiting more students from other locations, Australia could safeguard itself from Chinese coercion to a degree.

With both countries apparently not keen on talking with each other to resolve economic and other differences, it will probably happen all of a sudden and without much warning if the PRC starts discouraging its students from going to Australia.