In a legal case that has lingered for almost five years, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion Jan. 24 that states the federal Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 trumps Ohio statute in regard to horsemen having a say in where races are transmitted.
In the fall of 2006 two Ohio racetracks—Beulah Park and River Downs—asked the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association for approval to send their signals to Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack in Pennsylvania for a 3% host fee. The Ohio HBPA wouldn’t consent unless the fee was raised to 5%.
The Ohio tracks then asked for a ruling from the Ohio State Racing Commission, which granted permission for the signals to go to Harrah’s Chester. The Ohio HBPA then sued the OSRC, Beulah Park, and River Downs, but later dropped the tracks from the suit.
The action led to a period of heightened animosity between the horsemen’s group and the racetracks, which have since changed hands and now are owned by casino companies.
The Court of Appeals opinion, which affirms a judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, states that federal law preempts state law if they “directly conflict.” The Ohio Revised Code states horsemen’s consent is required to send signals, but “shall be consistent with the interest of preserving live racing.” It also grants the OSRC power to overrule horsemen’s groups.
“To respect the state law is to slight the federal one,” the opinion states.
Lexington-based attorney Doug McSwain, chief counsel for the National HBPA who helped represent the Ohio HBPA in the case, said horsemen’s rights under the IHA “are fully vindicated” in the latest opinion.
“The ‘horsemen’s veto’ cannot be taken away or diluted by any state law, and if any state’s law purports to do so, it will not survive constitutionally,” McSwain said.