$1.1M in COVID relief steered to Auburn horse racing track

August 25, 2023

Crosscut:$1.1M in COVID relief steered to Auburn horse racing track

Several horses and jockeys engaged in a close horse race.
Source: Stockbyte from Photo Images

Washington lawmakers have now doled out nearly all of the state’s $16.5 billion in direct federal pandemic aid. In the recently passed state operating budget, legislators plugged remaining relief dollars into food banks, homeless shelters and emergency medical supplies.

They also reserved $1.1 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds for a very different purpose: propping up the state’s sole operating horse racing track.

At Emerald Downs on Sunday, a red-coated trumpeter signaled the arrival of horses on the track. A large electric scoreboard displayed bet totals and horse odds. Golf carts ferried people from the stadium to the barns, where workers known as grooms live on-site to brush, feed and tend to the horses.

Legislators who steered the funding to the state’s Horse Racing Commission say the Auburn racetrack serves as a key economic driver in the south King County region – and keeping the declining industry alive preserves jobs for the largely working-class, predominantly Hispanic jockeys, trainers and maintenance workers.

But public policy analysts see a handout for a sports venue organized around gambling as a frivolous use of one-time funds intended for essential government services.

“The intent of that law is to help local governments and state governments make their economies more resilient for the next pandemic,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C. “Horses don’t meet that definition.”

Read the full story at Crosscut.