GORHAM — In his Jan. 7 Maine Voices column, Robert Fisk declared that the state is “subsidizing … Maine’s harness racing industry.” The truth is that no taxpayer money is going into the harness racing industry.

Fisk states that “an $8.44 million taxpayer subsidy” went into racing in 2015. Again, let’s get it straight: Not a dime of citizens’ tax dollars went into racing. Even the cost of running the Maine State Harness Racing Commission, a state panel, is paid for by the harness racing industry.

The so-called subsidy is actually an agreement worked out among the harness racing industry, financier Shawn Scott and, later, Penn National Gaming to allow a casino into Maine by piggybacking on harness racing. Because the state controls gambling at racetracks and casinos, the money from betting at racetracks and in the casinos funnels through the state government.

The state of Maine takes a huge cut of this money. Each year, 1 percent of the gross revenue from the Hollywood Casino is taken in taxes. In 2015, that was over $4.3 million from the Hollywood Casino alone.

On top of that, the state also takes 39 percent of Hollywood Casino’s net slot revenue in taxes; 4 percent of that goes to the Gambling Control Board and another 10 percent to the Fund for a Healthy Maine. Of the 46 percent of net slot revenue that the state takes from the Oxford Casino, a big chunk goes to public K-12 and higher education. In all, the state General Fund and Gambling Control Board keep nearly $10 million of the over $45 million collected in tax revenue from the two casinos.

In contrast, the harness racing industry received a total of only about $8.4 million in 2015. These funds go to purses, drug testing, the cost of the Harness Racing Commission, support for commercial tracks and off-track betting, administration of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association, retired horse care and promotion.

Unfortunately, a few lawmakers, including Fisk, a former legislator, think the state is entitled to any money that passes through its hands. Once again, casino revenues are not citizen taxpayer dollars. They are from taxes on the casinos, the highest-taxed business in Maine.

Some of the casino profits that are going back to harness racing are added to a fraction of the money bet at tracks and a sum paid by the Maine Sire Stakes horse owners to form the purses that horses race for. This is a small fraction of the total cost of harness racing. Most of the money in harness racing comes from breeders and racehorse owners and goes to farmers, feed dealers, veterinarians, farriers, trainers and drivers.

Fisk goes on to criticize the apparent lack of industry support for unwanted horses that was described in Colin Woodard’s article of Dec. 18. An example of Woodard’s negative slant is a quote by Robyn Cuffey, who stated that horse owners “are not putting a dime” toward the care of retired racehorses.

Cuffey is providing a good service. She is given retired racehorses, retrains them and sells them. Some of the original owners pay for the horse’s care while it is being retrained. Often the retraining is a donated service provided by volunteers.

While this service is helpful, many racehorse owners care for retired horses themselves. I have four retired horses at my farm at the moment. They will live out their lives here. I invite anyone to come and see how they are cared for.

I know other horse owners who keep or pay for retired horses. The racehorse industry in Maine also contributes $5,000 a year for the care of retired racehorses. Very few, if any, racehorses in Maine are sent to slaughter plants in Quebec, as Woodard reported and Fisk repeated.

Fisk would also like to see the “$3 million of the track’s (Scarborough Downs’) annual subsidy” go to the care of retired horses. In 2015, the “subsidy” to Scarborough Downs was just over $1 million; as Woodard reported, Scarborough Downs was allotted $3 million from the casinos that year, but $2 million was earmarked for purses.

While I am sure that Mr. Fisk is genuinely concerned about the care of retired racehorses, he uses factual errors, misrepresentation of facts and blatant sentimentality to bolster his arguments, and in the process, does a real disservice to the many women and men who love and care for racehorses in Maine.

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