Give horseplayers tax relief to grow handle

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the potential loss of slot subsidy within the horse racing industry. Then, as if on cue, a legislator in Pennsylvania wants to pass a bill that takes a $250 million slot subsidy away from horse racing and uses it to fund education.

He’ll be standing on a popular platform. Who doesn’t want better education for our children? And the $250 million is going to degenerate horseplayers anyway, plus big purses for rich horse owners from out of state and even out of the country.

The truth is it will decimate a billion dollar industry within the state. Just as the state next door, Ohio, will be funding its own horse industry with a slot subsidy.

In these debates, horse racing always has a difficult time defending itself.

In this case, track owners in Pennsylvania are not without blame. If they were doing a better job of marketing, knowing their work with government officials is never done, this discussion wouldn’t be happening.

Even with a $250 million subsidy, the takeout rates in Pennsylvania are among the highest in the nation. The takeout is simply a tax on horseplayers for the privilege of placing a bet.

Just once, I’d like to see a mandate in which a horse racing state that gets a slot subsidy must pass along tax relief to its customers, too. It is a straight-line method to grow handle, which is the lifeblood of the sport.

In a trickle-down horse world, the track operators and the horsemen get nearly the entire subsidy. Few consider their own horseplayers. Now, in Pennsylvania, all may get the same amount. Nothing.

■ ARIAS WINS NHC — Jose Arias led virtually wire to wire to win the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Treasure Island. His win margin was just $1.20 in mutuel price. First prize was worth $750,000.

In the aftermath, unsubstantiated rumors were flying that someone in the Arias camp had bet $10,000 to win on Fit to Rule, the winner of the final race of the day at Santa Anita. The odds on Fit to Rule had dropped from 8-1 to 6-1 during the running of the race. The lower win payoff proved enough for Arias to get a narrow victory.

Even if the claim is true, there was nothing illegal about it. Professional horseplayer Michael Beychok called it a likely hedge bet, something big horse and sports bettors often do to protect their profits.

I don’t even think it happened. Regardless, the solution is pretty easy. Don’t announce, but post the player’s final picks on the projection screen after the race starts.

■ VALENZUELA DONE? — Jockey Pat Valenzuela texted his agent, Tom Knust, on Jan. 24 with the following: “I’m sorry Tom. I’m not riding any longer, I’m sorry.”

His latest comeback has not gone well. Valenzuela was winless in 20 mounts at Santa Anita. He had as much natural ability as any other jockey in history. Now his on again/off again career finally might be over.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.