The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive committee has accepted the resignations of president John Roark and vice president Tom Metzen Sr., both of whom have formed a company that hopes to facilitate international wagering for the benefit of horsemen.
The resignations, announced April 12, must be ratified by the National HBPA board of directors. Joe Santanna, National HBPA secretary/treasurer, will assume the office of president and chairman until the next board of directors meeting in late July in Minnesota. A special election will be held for the president's post and any other vacant seats during that meeting.
Roark, of Texas, took over as president in 2001. Metzen, president of the Minnesota HBPA, last year was elected vice president of the Central Region.
Roark, a lawyer, has publicly stated he has been pursuing employment in the pari-mutuel industry and was asked to work for a technology company. He said he tendered resignation before the executive committee discussed the issue and a potential conflict of interest, and that the new position would "hamper" his ability to serve as National HBPA president.
Roark, a longtime advocate for developing new wagering markets, said the company is called International Horsemen's Wagering Assurance Group. The company, based in Curacao, already is "dealing with companies around the world and negotiating contracts," he said.
During the National HBPA winter convention in Tampa, Fla., in late January, the board discussed potential conflicts of interest and tightening the bylaws to prevent them. Roark at that time expressed his desire to branch out.
"We don't want to get into problems down the road," Kentucky HBPA president Susan Bunning said at the meeting in Tampa. "We had a very difficult time three or four years ago in Kentucky, and there were a lot of hard feelings. I'm just trying to do something on the front end."
Bunning spoke in reference to a situation in which three Kentucky HBPA officials with National HBPA positions were involved in potential conflicts of interest involving simulcast contracts with the Choctaw Indians from 1999-2001. No action was taken against them after an investigation by the National HBPA.
"I will not get involved in anything I perceive to be a conflict of interest to this organization," Roark said at the Tampa meeting.
On April 13, Roark said he didn't resign under pressure, and that he hopes to work with the National HBPA to develop new revenue streams.
"There is no animosity," he said. "It's not a big deal. We're all going to move on."
In a statement, Santanna, the one-time president of the Penn National Race Course-based Pennsylvania HBPA, said: "As longtime horsemen and HBPA members and in their roles as National HBPA officers, John Roark and Tom Metzen Sr. have personified the National HBPA's motto, 'Horsemen helping horsemen.' I can only hope to live up to the high standards they have set."
The National HBPA executive committee wrapped up a two-day meeting in Lexington April 12. Officials previously said they planned to discuss other issues such as signal pricing and developing a strategy to get more revenue for purses from account wagering.