Horse Racing Reform Bill Gains Momentum

Effort for uniform standards to protect racehorses passed major milestones this week.

The effort to bring uniform standards to protect racehorses passed three major milestones this week, according to an Oct. 8 release from the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.

One hundred and fifty members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors to the Horseracing Integrity Act, which is more than one third of the House of Representatives. Besides the strong Congressional support, 135 of the industry’s leading trainers support the bill. Additionally, more than 53,000 people have signed a petition from the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity calling for passage of the bill.

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CHRI Blankets Capitol Hill Pushing Support for the Horseracing Integrity Act

Members of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity (CHRI) blanketed Capitol Hill today seeking support for the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 (HIA). Individual members are meeting with senators to educate them on HIA, which was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Martha McSally (R-AZ). The Senate bill is the companion legislation to the House bill, which was introduced earlier this year by Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY).

“The Horseracing Integrity Act is gaining momentum with the introduction of the Senate bill, and prominent members of the horse racing industry have flown in from all over the country to help educate senators and members about the need for reform,” said Shawn Smeallie, executive director of CHRI. “We’ve already had 127 members of the House co-sponsor the bill, and we’re confident that a majority of senators will get on board as well.”

The HIA would create a private, independent horse racing anti-doping authority responsible for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping and medication control program. The program would be administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the body responsible for administering anti-doping programs for human athletes, including the U.S. Olympic teams.

“The bill doesn’t create a new ‘Department of Horse Racing,’ but rather sets up an independent board with broad representation from the industry,” continued Smeallie. “We are currently operating under a patchwork quilt of state regulations with little consistency across jurisdictions. Inconsistent rules mean that the health of horses suffers, with injuries and deaths that could have been prevented.”

The new set of rules, testing procedures, and penalties would replace the current makeshift regulatory system that governs horse racing’s 38 jurisdictions. Passage of this bill will result in a substantial increase in out-of-competition testing, which will help ensure horses are free from performance-enhancing drugs during racing and training.

In a recent research paper, the group in charge of the industry’s breed registry, The Jockey Club, wrote that “improper drug use can directly lead to horse injuries and deaths. Horses aren’t human, and the only way they can tell us something is wrong is by reacting to a symptom. If that symptom is masked, the results can be devastating… we lag behind cheaters and abusers and by the time we have caught up they have moved on to the next designer substance.”

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National HBPA Opposes Senate Introduction of the Horseracing Integrity Act (S. 1820)

The National Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) announces its opposition to the Senate version of the Horseracing Integrity Act (S. 1820), introduced last week by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Martha McSally (R-AZ). On behalf of Thoroughbred race horse owners and trainers, the HBPA has been steadfast in its opposition to the House companion measure introduced earlier this year by Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY-20) and Andy Barr (R-KY-06) (H.R. 1754).

“Senator Gillibrand and Senator McSally have clearly been misguided. Banning race day Lasix will cause more equine deaths, and additional regulations will cause jobs to be lost,” stated Eric Hamelback, CEO of the HBPA.

The HBPA fully supports the veterinary community and the science on which they base their opinions. Under S. 1820, owners, trainers, and veterinarians would no longer have the choice to utilize the therapeutic, legal medication furosemide, more commonly known as Lasix. Lasix is used in horses to control or prevent Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhages (EIPH), or “bleeding” and has been used safely and humanely for the last 40 years in American horse racing. Horses often experience EIPH episodes during intense exercise, such as during races. Current industry policy endorses and strictly regulates the use of this medication on race day because it is in the best interests of the health and welfare of the horse.

“If Lasix is completely banned the number of fatalities on race tracks throughout the country will increase. While we are committed to finding answers that will prevent, reduce, and solve the occurrence of any fatality for our thoroughbred athletes, this bill is NOT the answer.” said Hamelback.

Also, the HBPA has deep concerns about the additional fees and costs that S. 1820 would place on those in the horse racing industry. For the smaller industry folks, these new fees will be the tipping point that pushes them out of the business. While wealthy owners may not feel the pinch, rural and agrarian jobs will be lost, and lives will be devastated. This loss of income will have a rippling effect on state and local economies that depend on the industry.

Hamelback believes the introduction of this legislation is a misguided attempt to address the recent equine deaths in California: “S. 1820 would not have prevented one single death. My members are as concerned as any about the recent tragedies in California, and we agree more independent research needs to be done to discover the cause of these deaths. However, implying that the racing industry is rampant with doping and that this legislation is the solution is completely wrongheaded.”

The HBPA strongly opposes the Horseracing Integrity Act and encourages industry participants to voice their opposition by contacting their representatives in Congress.

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Election Aftermath Mixed for Thoroughbred Interests

By T. D. Thornton

In the aftermath of Election Day, the gambling landscape shifted significantly overnight in three states. But the results are mixed in terms of how the measures will affect Thoroughbred horse racing.

In Arkansas, Oaklawn Park won the right to add full casino gaming and sports betting to its existing wagering menu of pari-mutuels and electronic gaming. The vote percentage was 54-46.

In Idaho, historical horse racing (HHR) video gaming at tracks was defeated by a 53-47 margin, putting the state’s already tenuous Thoroughbred future in even more of an endangered flux.

Florida voters banned greyhound racing by a 69-31 margin, with a 2020 sunset date but a provision to keep other forms of gaming at those tracks.

A separate Florida measure that passed by a 71-29 margin mandates that any future changes to casino gambling have to be approved through statewide citizen-initiated ballot measures, and not the Legislature.

All tallies in this story cited are listed in rounded percentages, and are according to results posted as of 2 p.m. Wednesday on Ballotpedia.com.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, the passage of Issue 4 amended the Arkansas Constitution to grant four casino licenses in specified locations. Oaklawn in Hot Springs and the Southland greyhound/gaming venue in West Memphis were granted “automatic licenses” for expansions “at or adjacent to” their existing operations. Both tracks already offer electronic games of skill under a 2005 state law.

Additionally, one casino license will be up for bid in both Pope County and Jefferson County.

As part of the Arkansas measure, “casino gaming shall also be defined to include accepting wagers on sporting events.”

The ballot initiative also included a tax revenue distribution plan that mandates “17.5% to the Arkansas Racing Commission for deposit into the Arkansas Racing Commission Purse and Awards Fund to be used only for purses for live horse racing and greyhound racing by Oaklawn and Southland.”

Idaho

The defeated Proposition 1 was designed to once again legalize HHR video terminals at tracks in Idaho, where seven fairs circuit tracks raced short meets in 2018. The measure would have granted HHR gaming rights to any track that cards eight calendar dates annually, and passage would almost certainly have meant the re-opening of Les Bois Park, formerly Idaho’s only commercial track.

Idaho had briefly legalized HHR in 2013 but the law was repealed in 2015. When the state pulled the plug on HHR, Les Bois, which was one of three locations that had the machines, shut down. Les Bois spent heavily to support Proposition 1, and reportedly had several hundred HHR machines still on the property ready to resume operation, along with live racing.

Florida

Florida’s two approved ballot measures might end up raising more questions than they answered in an already confusing state for gambling.

The Amendment 13 ban on dog racing actually had the support of some of the state’s 11 greyhound track operators, who saw it as a de facto way of attaining “decoupling” from less-profitable pari-mutuels while retaining lucrative gaming rights.

Some “What happens next?” scenarios could include horse tracks angling for similar decoupling rights based on this precedent. And with greyhound racing mandated to end, animal rights activists might now more closely focus on horse racing.

Carey Theil, the executive director of GREY2K USA, one of the leading backers of the ban, told the Orlando Sentinel that the vote appears to mean the greyhound industry will likely be “swept away in the night” and that “the historical consequences of this are incredibly significant.”

Amendment 3, which took control of future casino gambling decisions out of the hands of the Legislature, was proposed by Voters in Charge, a political committee largely financed by the tourism-centric Walt Disney Co. and the Seminole Tribe, which operates existing gaming facilities. According to published reports, that committee spent more than $31 million on the effort to transfer future casino decisions to voters.

According to a post-vote analysis in the Tampa Bay Times, “While the amendment, in theory, gives voters the power to expand gambling, it could actually make the process more difficult. Changing anything by voter decision is a long process, and would therefore keep competition low for the Seminole Tribe and ensure a more ‘family friendly’ tourism environment here, to Disney’s benefit.”

The Miami Herald recapped the vote this way: “Opponents to the amendment—like NFL teams, online betting sites like FanDuel and DraftKings and dog and horse tracks—have argued that it is unclear what affect the initiative would have on previously authorized gambling sites across the state.”

United States Congress

Two U.S. Representatives in positions to have an impact on Thoroughbred racing both won re-election bids Nov. 6.

Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) are co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus. They are also co-sponsors of HR 2651, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017, which was first introduced in a different form in 2015. Its revised version has not had any legislative action since a June 22 subcommittee hearing.

Barr won by a 51-48 margin. Tonko’s winning margin was 68-32.

Lexington Mayor

Linda Gorton bested Ronnie Bastin by a 63-37 margin in the Lexington, Kentucky, mayoral race.

In a profile published the week prior to the election, Gorton told TDN that “I have a long history of working with the equine industry here. I know many of the horse farm owners and managers. I understand their concerns…. That’s important for me, to have people understand that I have worked with this industry for many, many years, and have great experience in doing that.”

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