Nine Knesset members signed a letter on Tuesday to sports-betting firm Toto Winner and Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, demanding that the company end its advertising campaign encouraging betting on horse racing abroad.

In their letter, the Knesset members argue that the advertising campaign encourages abuse of horses through their participation in such competition and therefore represents a violation of the Animal Welfare Law.

The letter, drafted in collaboration with the rights organization Hakol Chai, received the signatures of MKs David Azoulay (Shas), Ilan Gilon (Meretz), Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Dov Henin (Hadash), Eitan Cabel (Labor) and Michal Roisin (Meretz).

“Horse racing is a ‘sporting industry’ that gives terrible pain and serious injuries to competing horses that are irreversible,” the letter said. “It does not matter whether the race is taking place in Israel or abroad – there is no limit to the suffering of the horses.”

Race horses regularly receive stimulants and pain relievers, develop stomach ulcers and bleed as a result of the unnatural exertion and experience serious injuries such as breaking limbs, according to Hakol Chai. Citing figures provided by The New York Times sports pages on a weekly basis, the organization stressed that in the United States more than 1,200 horses die on the tracks each year.

In addition to signing the letter, the Knesset members who slammed the campaign are also promoting a bill that would completely ban gambling on animals in Israel, as such activity can only end in loss of animals, the organization added.

“Horse racing is driven by economic interests only – as is gambling in general,” the letter said. “Cooperation with this interest ignores the fact that the industry is cruel and exploitative, allowing animal abuse until premature death.

The vast majority of racehorses die at an early age compared to other horses.

Horse racing for the goal of betting is simply sheer cruelty.”

For its part, Hakol Chai stressed that it is impossible that Israel will prohibit abuse within its borders yet tolerate the same behavior overseas.

“We are for sports in Israel, but not at the expense of animals,” a statement from the organization said.

In response to the letter, the Culture and Sport Ministry explained that a year-and-a-half of in-depth discussions on the matter had taken place, which included all the relevant factors and involved animal rights organizations.

At the conclusion of the discussions, the Finance Committee elected to limit the bets on horse racing to events occurring in the UK and Ireland only, where strict control over the well-being of the animals is the rule, the ministry stressed.

“Expanding the activities of the Sports Betting Council, which is the main source of financing of popular competitive sports in Israel, is primarily designed to bring significant increases in budgets and resources that the council allocates to sports and athletes in Israel,” the ministry said in a statement.

The expected growth in revenues from this decision will likely amount to “an unprecedented investment of hundreds of billions of shekels to establish new sports facilities across the country,” particularly for children, the ministry continued.

The Sports Betting Council, meanwhile, has allocated special funds to help the country in its fight against the phenomenon of illegal gambling.

“Toto’s advertising campaign is done according to the law, and there is no substance in the argument that it constitutes an offense whatsoever to the Animal Welfare Law,” the ministry added.

Also in response to the letter, a spokesman from Toto stressed that the Knesset specifically approved an amendment that allows for betting on horse races abroad, which is customary all over the world.

On this basis, the Knesset Finance Committee approved Toto’s request to hold bets on horse races in England and Ireland, the spokesman continued.

Due to the revenues generated by betting on horse racing, Toto is able to allocate additional funds toward encouraging children to participate in sports, he added.

“The operations of Toto in general, and the advertising campaign in particular, are conducted in accordance with the law, and certainly do not violate the Animal Welfare Law,” the spokesman said. “It is important to emphasize that the races do not exist in Israel but in England and Ireland, and data there is strictly enforced by the authorities, including the terms of equine welfare.”

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