Ask a friend you know who owns a Toyota or a GM brand whether he or she would purchase another car from one of these companies because of their rogue behavior. General Motors is accused of covering up an ignition defect resulting in 12 deaths and 31 crashes and Toyota paid a fine of $1.2 billion for concealing information about faulty parts. How about Target, do you avoid this retailer over the data breach that compromised the information of millions of accounts? Would you refuse your doctor’s prescription for a Merck drug over the Vioxx cover-up? Do you bypass BP or Exxon service stations for major oil spills?

No doubt that such incidents cause some people to not do business with the companies involved. However, as time goes by, the negative publicity has less and less of an effect. Tylenol, Firestone, and many other prominent brands have come back strongly from horrendous episodes of damage to their customers (in the case of Tylenol, the company was an innocent victim of criminal wrongdoing). People tend to forgive and/or forget—in the years following World War II, many Americans would not have considered buying a Japanese or German car, now assembled in Georgetown, Chattanooga, Marysville, and other U. S. venues.

A recent poll by HorsePlayerNow showed that 92.3% of 801 bettors on horse racing had heard of the recent PETA allegations arising from an undercover investigation of the Steve Asmussen stable. Of these, 78.1% said the PETA revelations would have “no impact on my betting habits” versus 13.4% who indicated they will bet less and 1.2% who will no longer bet on horse racing.

The damage to betting handle will likely be much less than this survey portrays. The vast majority of pari-mutuel handle is accounted for by a very small percentage of bettors. It is unlikely that these obviously loyal individuals will be as swayed by the PETA video as the general public or smaller, recreational bettors.

The danger to horse racing is in the longer run. The egregious behavior in the Asmussen stable sullies the image of horse racing among the general public and this is likely to mean fewer casual fans from which racing can attract more bettors. It will be informative to see what happens to the television ratings for the Kentucky Derby, while the PETA video and the resultant publicity are still fairly current.

The American people are mostly tolerant of companies and individuals who have encountered troubles and then turned around their situations. In fact, the vast majority of Americans admire redemption. For instance, former president Bill Clinton is currently very popular, even though he was guilty of personal foibles with an intern and lying under oath.

Horse racing should use the PETA expose to take the substantive steps necessary to improve the sport’s standing, such as on medication, whip use, and banishing bad actors. If the industry does not, however, the sport/business will contract. While people generally are inclined to forgive, they eventually run out of patience.

Horse racing is on double-public probation, so to speak. Recidivism is a possibility but is not preordained.

Copyright ©2014 Horse Racing Business


  1. Agree, nice take. Asmussen is equivalent to the very few employees at GM, Toyota etc. who did bad things that cost their companies greatly. What an engineer at GM or Toyota did should not condemn an entire company/industry anymore than what Asmussen and his help did should do so. Racing has many, many, many ethical employees, just like GM and Toyota. Arthur Anderson was put out of business by the acts of a few crooks.