November 21, 2011

Minister Orit Noked

Ministry of Agriculture


Re: Horse racing for the purpose of gambling in Israel


Dear Minister,


Hakol Chai and the undersigned organizations strongly object to the promotion of the Draft Bill – Horse Racing and the construction of a hippodrome in Israel.


This plan is the subject of considerable public controversy and has many opponents, some for reasons of protecting animal welfare, others due to the serious social implications of this industry, and yet others as a result of the environmental implications of the construction of a hippodrome.


The use of animals for the purpose of gambling is fundamentally immoral. It creates exploitation and abuse, and it turns the animal into a machine pushed to the limit of his or her ability by all possible means. The animal's entire existence is exploited for the purpose of gambling, and depends solely on his ability to win and the question of whether he will be profitable or not.


The unavoidable sight of famous racehorses collapsing and being put down on the track creates public and media pressure on the regulator and members of the industry worldwide, severely undermining the "glittering" image that characterized the industry for many years due to ignorance and lack of knowledge. New research from August 2011, carried out by the American Jockey Club, determined that one of the reasons for the significant decrease in gambling is the poor reputation of the industry. According to this study, gambling has decreased by 37% in recent years, and the number of race-goers has decreased by 30%. Only 22% expressed a positive opinion of horse races, by contrast with the enormous popularity of the casino. If this trend continues, the research states, horse owners will lose 50% of their income and the number of gamblers will decrease substantially every year.


For his owner, a racehorse is merely a status symbol. The owner often does not see him other than at the races, and the horse’s fate depends on his trainer and those who prepare him for the race. Everyone has a financial interest in victory, and they all have common practices for urging the horse on beyond the limits of its physical ability. Only a few of the horses repay the cost of their training, and this important fact has a direct impact on the level of medical treatment they receive, and the care given to their welfare in general.


Below are a number of the repercussions of exploitation and abuse in the industry:

  • Thousands of horses are born as part of the increased breeding, only a few of whom will participate in races. Dr. Mordechai Kadmon also wrote in his opinion that in order to maintain a minimum quantity of 2000 racehorses to support one racecourse, it is necessary to have a supply of another 7000 horses in Israel. As occurs throughout the world, due to the problem of overbreeding of the horses, these "extras" will be passed from hand to hand and end up following a path of neglect and suffering to illegal slaughterhouses in Israel and the neighboring countries. This is also the fate of racehorses who suffer irreversible injuries, after they have been exploited to the maximum, usually after three racing seasons and at the age of only five or six, while other thoroughbred horses live to the age of at least 25. Overbreeding of horses is a worldwide phenomenon that Israel has also begun to face. The only "solution" found so far around the world is slaughtering. Here too, thousands of horses will be ejected from the industry without any solution being found. The Horse Welfare Foundation, described in the draft bill, will handle a negligible number of horses, and the others will be slaughtered or suffer other forms of neglect. (Israel today already has more than 40,000 horses, and there are no more available grazing areas.) In England, the Guardian revealed that the British Horse Welfare Foundation cares for only 90 horses. In the USA, the New York Times published photographs of former racehorses, skeleton-thin due to the budgetary difficulties of the organization that is supposed to look after them. HBO devoted a special program to the slaughter of racehorses in the USA.

  • Already from the age of two, while their bones are still soft, the colts undergo exhausting training and participate in races in which they are required to make an unnatural effort, leading to irreversible injuries. At a hearing held on the subject in the US Congress in 2008, one of the veterinarians in the industry testified that treatment of these injuries was so poor that every three months 20% of the racehorses in America leave the industry. The well-known racehorse veterinarian Patricia Hogan wrote in an article that many horses leave the industry in such poor shape that it is not even possible for them to be adopted as companion animals. A survey carried out by Associated Press found that every year in the USA, 1000 horses die on the racetrack alone (not including deaths in training or because the horses have become unprofitable). The British organization Animal Aid has begun detailed documentation of horses that collapse and die on the racetrack in England. The list of dead horses grows longer every week, and as of today (November 20, 2011) 753 horses have died on the track since March 13, 2007. Our draft bill also anticipates horse injuries and even deaths from the outset (articles 36 and 37 of the draft bill), and it is highly unlikely that there are other branches of sport that are permitted, in the advance knowledge that the competing animal will die. Otherwise, why not permit dogfights and cockfights?

  • The horses are drugged with stimulants to improve their performance, or painkillers to make them run despite being in pain. Most drug tests are held retroactively (after the race) and after the horse has already been announced in public as the winner and the gamblers have already received their winnings. The use of some substances is permitted, there are permitted quantities of others, the cost of testing is high, and sanctions are ineffective. Particularly dangerous are the painkillers, with which the horse can run until he collapses and dies. Another common problem is "reverse sedation", slowing down the horse and distorting the result (such as the use of antibiotics, anaesthetizing the ligaments, and so on). The fight against the use of drugs is doomed to failure, and the financial investment in the attempt to prevent the phenomenon is also ineffective. Even if one substance is prohibited, another substance will immediately appear. Even if testing shows illegal use of drugs, a way of concealing this use will immediately be found.

  • Racehorses are the only animals in the world, other than bulls, that may be beaten in public for the purpose of "entertainment" and "sport". They are whipped dozens of times in the course of a race. Those that receive the most lashes are the exhausted horses that have lost any chance of winning. According to the British organization Animal Aid, in 2010 the regulations limiting the use of the whip were breached 887 (!) times, thanks to the ineffective sanctions in the industry.

  • Racehorses suffer from many health issues, such as bleeding in the lungs as a result of excessive effort, chronic stomach ulcers, and heart attacks.

In every country where horse races are held for the purpose of gambling, no matter how developed and western they may be, regulation has lost out to the financial interest of people in the industry in recouping their investment and making a profit. Western countries have invested considerable money, human resources and legislation over many years in trying to stop the cruelty that has infiltrated and taken over horse racing, but no country has succeeded in guaranteeing the welfare of the racehorse.


Accordingly, and in light of all that stated above, the draft bill represents an unprecedented infringement of the Animal Welfare Law, which states that "no person shall ill-treat, show cruelty to or abuse an animal in any way" (article 2(a)), and that "no person shall work an animal to exhaustion" (article 3(b)). These articles of the law will remain as empty slogans in the face of beaten horses collapsing on the racetrack in Israel, and if the Ministry of Agriculture decides to exclude racehorses from the law, animals will be sacrificed for the first time for the sake of gambling and entertainment.


The plan also has serious social implications. The horseracing industry provides fertile ground for criminal elements, who find broad scope for cheating and for intolerably easy distortion of the results. This can be done by the horse's owner, the jockey, the trainer, the veterinarian, or others handling the horse. Supervision, no matter how close, cannot prevent crime of this kind, and a takeover of the field by crime families is expected and inevitable. Here, more than in any other area of gambling, crime and violence will find their place with ease and under the sponsorship of the state.


The development and encouragement of the gambling subculture will lead a considerable part of the general public, not necessarily those with means, to put the last of their money on "the right horse", thus exacerbating their financial situation. The state needs to develop sources of funding in other ways, and not on the back of those addicted to gambling. The fact is that the state rejected the possibility of making other games of chance legal, such as poker or casinos, on the basis of these arguments. So why is gambling on horseracing legitimate? The argument that the draft bill fights illegal gambling in Israel has no foundation of credibility. It cannot be that the way to fight something illegal is to give it the seal of legal approval.


There is good reason why the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, gave a halachic ruling unequivocally rejecting horseracing in Israel: " not support horseracing, neither its establishment nor as a spectator, because it is cruelty to animals, it is the seat of the scornful, and it is a game of chance".


Honorable Minister, the citizens of Israel have no cultural connection with this industry, and the man in the street does not wish to see this stupidity here. Do not permit betting on animals in general, and on horses in particular. Gambling on animals generates abuse.


The undersigned organizations: