Restart Harness Racing in Ohio by May 15
Dear Governor DeWine,
On behalf of Ohio’s horsemen and women, our employees, track operators and their employees, as well as harness racing fans, thank you for your compassionate leadership on the COVID-19 crisis. You have been faced with a myriad of difficult challenges, and your efforts to balance health and economic concerns are admirable.
However, our industry, which employs directly or indirectly over 5,000 Ohioans, needs your support. With racing on hold, groomers, trainers and other employees are going without paychecks. Veterinarian bills, blacksmiths, stable rents and utilities are going unpaid.
In addition to thousands of workers losing their income, the impact of our tracks being closed is affecting all Ohioans. Our racing venues and their satellite signals provide a significant source of tax dollars paid to the state of Ohio. While the state faces budget cuts and is losing needed tax dollars, we can safely generate taxable income for all Ohioans.
With almost no sports on TV and none airing daily, a significant economic windfall could be gained if we restart racing quickly. We hope this fact has not been overlooked in your plans to reopen the state. Our daily handle would be at a record level if we could get our tracks open this month.
The harness racing industry in Ohio dates back to the late 19th century. Columbus is home to the United States Trotting Association and many leaders of our sport. Ohio has long been a front-runner in harness racing, with Delaware, Ohio, hosting the internationally recognized Little Brown Jug, which you personally attended last year. You witnessed what our sport means to Ohioans.
It is important to note that harness racing, while an exciting sport, does not require a crowd. Fans around the state and the country can enjoy races at our tracks in Columbus, Dayton and Cleveland from anywhere via satellite. Fans can watch and wager online or enjoy racing on TV, as they are already doing so in several states. Kentucky, Florida, California and Arkansas currently are allowing thoroughbred racing without an audience.
The harness racing industry has developed a comprehensive safety and sanitation strategy that will allow operations to resume safely, including social distancing plans for workers.
We ask that you allow the racing tracks to reopen in May without fans, so the state’s harness racing industry does not perish. We will defer to you and your medical authorities on when fans may return to the stands and under what conditions.
With no clear direction on when racing can resume, our industry is on the verge of collapse, threatening jobs, the health of the horses we love and tax revenue the state desperately needs.
There is nothing to be gained by allowing this uncertainty to continue. The risk to reopening – if any – is very low. If racing does not begin soon, horsemen and women will be forced to find other employment, livelihoods will be lost, and owners will be forced to sell their animals and cease operations, all with devastating long-term effects to our industry.
Thank you for listening to our plea.