|As Seabiscuit passes the $100m mark at American box offices the horse racing, industry lobbyists are also seizing the moment to push horse-related issues. They are promoting the racing and breeding industries not as 'the sport of kings' but as a$34bn-a-year agribusiness that employs hundreds of thousands, from veterinarians through from drivers to jockeys.|
'This is a perfect storm of marketing,' says Greg Avioli of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). 'The confluence of the Seabiscuit book and movie, along with Funny Cide and Empire Maker's Triple Crown duel, has made this the best time to be marketing horse racing since we started the NTRA in 1998.” Screenings of Seabiscuit to members of Congress have also taken place.
The most pressing issue in the eyes of the racing industry is taxes. In 2000 some $80bn was bet on horse racing worldwide. The US accounts for 32 per cent of races, but less than 1 per cent of bets from other countries were placed on US races, according to a study by National Economic Research Associates (Nera). Analysts say the deterrent is the 30 per cent tax on winnings payable by non-US residents betting from overseas.
There are exemptions and the impact is dramatic. For instance, since the UK signed a treaty in 2001 with the US to eliminate the tax, gambling on Breeder's Cup races from the UK has grown more than 70 times, according to the Nera study, which was commissioned by the NTRA.
The study claims that global repeal of the tax could bring another $8.9m in revenue annually to the racing industry and $17.7m in economic activity nationwide.
'If we could export our product around the world, more money would be bet and more money would come to the US. Repealing the tax is intended to grow the industry,' says Jay Hickey of the American Horse Council.
Another concern for the horse racing industry is government measures to curb internet gambling. Anti-gambling advocates say internet gambling is a gateway for minors and could be an outlet for money laundering.
In the racing industry, 80 per cent of bets are placed off the course via simulcast hook-ups. Credit card and other electronic payments would have been banned under wording in the original bill.
Businesses such as TVG Network, an interactive horse racing network with 'in-home account wagering', would certainly have been left in the dust. Lobbyists argued that the industry would collapse if horse racing were not excluded.
This summer the House passed a bill that excluded state-authorised transactions from the restrictions, leaving horse racing in the clear. The Senate Banking Committee also excluded horse racing - along with dog racing and Native American gaming operations - in its bill, which racing lobbyists hope will reach the Senate floor soon.