Let’s stop gambling with lives of horses

By John Di Leonardo  

Gambling is one of the 7 addictions, or Sapta Vyasan, recognized and prohibited by Jainism. This vice has devastated the lives of many persons and their families, however, when it comes to horse racing, it devastates the lives of animals as well.   

Since 2009, more than 1,600 horses have died at racetracks in New York State. At least 105 died last year and 50 have died on average annually at Belmont Park over the past 3 years. Even those horses who survive suffer terribly, often being forced to train and race before their bones are fully developed or with pre-existing injuries masked by performance-enhancing drugs. When the horses become injured or too old to perform, they’re often killed and sometimes even sent to slaughter.   

This past weekend, my organization Humane Long Island – previously known as LION – held a peaceful demonstration outside of the Belmont Stakes, the horserace that serves as the third leg of the Triple Crown, the series of horse races for three-year-old Thoroughbreds, consisting of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. We were joined by dozens of other animal advocates, including members of the Coalition to End Horseracing Subsidies, which includes Humane LI, PETA, NYCLASS, and Horseracing Wrongs, to educate the public about the 27 horses who have already been run to their deaths at Belmont Park so far this year and the more than $2.9 billion in New York state taxpayer funds and government benefits the failing industry has received since 2008. That is 13 times what was spent on veterans’ services.   

Our protest followed New York state legislators declining to move a New York Racing Association (NYRA) money-grab bill forward two weeks ago. If passed, $450 million in state-backed bonds would have gone toward building a new clubhouse at Belmont Park. This is the first time New York legislators have said “no” to the greedy New York horse racing industry. A 2021 Marist Poll survey reported that 91% of New Yorkers have no plans to visit a state racetrack and bet on horse racing, 5% plan to go once, and 1% plan to go twice. Residents of New York, not the 11 privately owned Thoroughbred and harness tracks, should be the recipients of subsidies.   

The Coalition to End Horseracing Subsidizes is urging that $230 million in annual subsidies, which are garnished from casino profits and currently being directed straight into the coffers of privately owned Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing companies, be redirected to education.   

For this week’s Anuvrat, I urge you to not only refrain from gambling but to speak out against the abuse of horses in the horse-racing industry. Many people do not know that horses are literally dying to win at races like the Belmont Stakes and it is up to us to let them know that when one places a bet at a horse-racing track, they are not only betting with their money, but they are gambling with horses’ lives. Readers in New York can take an additional step by urging their representatives to end the corporate welfare of the horse-racing industry. PETA makes this easy by following this link: https://action.peta.org/lmnbkea.   

John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Humane Long Island. He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He also earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John can be reached at [email protected].  

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