On the eve of its annual convention, the Association of Racing Commissioners International is again faced with a mass exodus that could threaten its viability. As of Thursday, up to 10 jurisdictions had informed the Lexington-based organization they had defected or would withhold dues pending changes at RCI.
At issue is president Tony Chamblin's handling of the organization and its finances, in particular a $50,000 check he is said to have written himself last year. In December, Chamblin's salary and benefits package for the remaining two years of his contract was reduced.
It was cut before in 1997, when Chamblin agreed not to accept $50,000 of his then-annual salary of $219,000 if the RCI showed a deficit. He was to be paid back $1 for every $2 in revenue over the budgeted amount.
Following that convention in Boston, Mass., a number of racing commissions left the fold to form the North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association, which now has about 25 member jurisdictions. RCI may have less than that if the latest group stays out after the organization's convention April 21-25 in Lexington. Officials are expected to make attempts to keep jurisdictions in the fold.
Virginia was the first to pull out after a meeting of RCI officials in Tucson, Ariz., in December. Since then, Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, and Texas have left. California has told the RCI it will withhold dues until the April convention, while Indiana said it wouldn't renew if a large number of members quits.
Chamblin was traveling overseas in Slovenia and couldn't be reached for comment.
The Texas Racing Commission made its decision official at a meeting Tuesday. Paula Flowerday, the commission's executive director, said Texas wasn't getting its money worth from $21,000 in annual dues. And that doesn't include money paid to participate in the RCI's Quality Assurance program, she said.
Flowerday said one advantage of membership is networking, but that the RCI database isn't effective. She said Texas is taking a wait-and-see approach, but that it would consider joining NAPRA "if the commission feels strongly we should throw our weight behind the need for a unified organization."
The Maryland Racing Commission, which took official action at a meeting Wednesday, told Chamblin in a Dec. 29 letter that it would resign. The commission also disputed a claim by Chamblin that it owed the RCI money.
Some former supporters of Chamblin have indicated they are incensed by what they claim has transpired. In a letter to RCI chairman Dennis Lee of Nebraska, Robert Hutchinson Jr., chairman of the Massachusetts Racing Commission, said he doesn't support the state's revenue "being used to support inappropriate behavior."
Virginia Racing Commission chairwoman Robin Williams, another one-time Chamblin supporter, told Lee the situation has embarrassed the organization. Williams had suggested a restructuring, and told Lee in a letter she didn't want to see "this fine organization destroyed by the internal animosity" any disclosures would create.
Some current RCI officials are said to believe Williams now has a vendetta against Chamblin. But in a Dec. 4 letter to Lee, she indicated the RCI stopped paying bills submitted by the National Racing Compact, an initiative she spearheaded and got off the ground. Other RCI members who complained about Chamblin also were members of the compact, which issued its first national licenses this year.
That letter to Lee concluded: "As the boys at the barn where I used to gallop colts would say, 'There's more going around in the dark than Santa Claus.' "
Michael Hoblock, chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, told Lee "debate over RCI staff performance, compensation, and accountability" has thwarted the organization and led New York to withdraw.