By: Tom LaMarra
The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission Jan. 30 said it will consider—after further examination—two proposals designed to further uniformity and integrity: legislation that would authorize a compact on equine medication and drug-testing standards, and racetrack accreditation under the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance.
The PHRC took no action on either one but did set in motion a review of both. There could be updates at the organization’s February meeting.
The compact, which has the support of state racing regulatory agencies in the Mid-Atlantic region and New York, would allow member states to adopt rules simultaneously after customary vetting and public hearing procedures. The Mid-Atlantic region, which in effect was the foundation for the National Uniform Medication Program, is leading the way on the compact.
Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Alan Foreman, who has worked with racing commissions on the compact, told PHRC members that regulators in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia have expressed support for the compact, which wouldn’t be limited to the region.
“(The Mid-Atlantic region) has pledged to work collectively in as best a uniform manner as is possible,” Foreman said. “In five years we’ve created a sea change in the way medication is regulated in our industry.”
The groups tabbed Rick Masters, who specializes in interstate compacts, to offer input on the proposed legislation, as well as Rick Goodell of the New York State Gaming Commission. Though some compacts have opt-out clauses—considered problematic—the medication and testing compact would operate under a supermajority vote structure.
The industry’s existing model would remain in place, with the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium providing research and science and the Association of Racing Commissioners International entertaining model rule proposals. Foreman said the compact—each state member would have one representative—is simply designed to facilitate adoption of model rules in a uniform fashion.
“This shouldn’t be a threat to anyone,” Foreman said. “We’ve had clearance from a number of governors. We hope that by July 1 there is a nucleus to form a compact.”
The PHRC, which falls under the state Department of Agriculture, would need to endorse the compact legislation before it moves forward.
In response to questions about the federal Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017, which is opposed by a majority of industry organizations as well as ARCI and its members, Foreman said the bill “isn’t in the best interests of the industry.”
“This is another step in the process,” he said. “The compact is not designed to get rid of the federal legislation; that effort will probably continue for some time.”
Russell Williams, a Pennsylvania resident who recently took over as President of the United States Trotting Association, provided support for the compact. The USTA is one of the many organizations that last year stated its opposition to the federal bill.
“It’s a contract between states, and the governance would be agreed upon,” Williams said of the compact. “I think the industry has now recognized the differing business models the Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds have, and that’s part of the thinking when we discuss things like this. I don’t see an atmosphere of suspicion.
“Pennsylvania in our view really needs to be in the compact. Pennsylvania is one of the giants in breeding and racing in North America, and any interstate compact that did not include Pennsylvania would be the weaker for it.”
As for the federal bill, Williams said: “You always have to take bills like that seriously. They’ve put a tremendous amount of money (into lobbying for it), and I don’t think they intend to walk away from it.”
In response to concerns from Standardbred industry representatives in Pennsylvania about not having breed-specific representatives from each state on a compact board, the PHRC said it would examine the issue before it makes a decision to endorse it. It was noted during the meeting that one representative is sufficient given the individual would merely be representing rules that already had been agreed upon in that state.
That was the same result regarding Pennsylvania Thoroughbred tracks applying for NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance accreditation. Parx Racing, according to comments at the meeting, has initiated the process, but Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course and Presque Isle Downs & Casino have not.
Steve Koch, Executive Director of the division of the NTRA, said the 23 accredited member tracks account for 75% of total pari-mutuel handle in North America. He said the accreditation seal is an indication to the public that tracks are doing things correctly and, as part of the review every two years, can improve operations.
“These tracks may not be making a lot of headlines, but unequivocally they are helping themselves prevent the next negative headline,” Koch said. “It’s a matter of being conspicuous by your absence (in the program).”
Koch noted that the two Thoroughbred tracks in West Virginia applied for accreditation–the process in ongoing–after the West Virginia Racing Commission mandated that they apply. No other state regulatory agency has taken that approach, though PHRC member Dr. Corinne Sweeney said “maybe it’s time for our commission to do something like West Virginia.”
The application cost for each Pennsylvania track is $15,000, Koch said. The period of time between application and accreditation varies from track to track, but Tom Chuckas, Director of Thoroughbred Racing for the PHRC, said when he was an executive at the Maryland Jockey Club, said it “can be done within six months if you really wanted to.”
Chuckas said that based on his experience, much of the requirements in the alliance application are already in place at Pennsylvania tracks.
Foreman, who noted the THA is a founding member of the NTRA, said the alliance was established because “nothing is more important than the health, safety and welfare of the horse.” He said the THA and other horsemen’s organizations in the United States support the alliance.