IHA Amendment Plan Progresses; Congress Sets Hearing
by Tom LaMarra
Date Posted: 5/4/2006 3:54:29 PM
Last Updated: 5/5/2006 4:33:56 PM

A member of Congress from Kentucky has drafted two pieces of legislation that would amend the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 to provide dedicated funding for workers' compensation insurance for jockeys, exercise riders, trainers, and backstretch workers.

Meanwhile, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has scheduled a third hearing on jockey-related issues. The hearing is scheduled for May 9 at the Rayburn Building in Washington, D.C. Previous hearings were held October and November.

"We're still looking at (the IHA bills), trying to figure out the best way to go," U.S. Rep Ed Whitfield, who announced his plan in late March, said in a recent interview.

Whitfield has suggested a percentage of revenue from simulcasts go toward insurance premiums. The IHA governs interstate simulcasts, or the sending of signals across state lines. It requires approval from racetracks, horsemen's groups, and regulators before signals are transmitted.

The initial announcement about the plan generated uneasiness in the pari-mutuel industry given the fact off-track wagers now account for about 85% of total handle. Some officials fear opening up the IHA could lead to other amendments.

Whitfield said he has discussed the legislation with racetrack officials.

"I've decided the opposition is not so much for the concept (of providing workers' compensation)--they all get really nervous any time there's talk about fooling around with the Interstate Horseracing Act," Whitfield said. "There's always concern when a bill goes through that somebody might try to amend it, and it would be harmful to simulcast revenue. It's a legitimate point."

Greg Avioli, senior vice president of legislation and corporate planning for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said May 2 he hasn't seen the proposed legislation and therefore couldn't comment in keeping with NTRA policy. Details of the legislation aren't yet available, though Whitfield said he believes there is enough money in the pipeline to create a national insurance structure.

"There's no rational reason why horsemen's groups end up with all this money," he said. "It's kind of unbelievable."

The amount of revenue generated by horsemen's groups largely depends on pari-mutuel handle in their jurisdictions. Many of them spend funds on benevolence programs.

Racing states such as California, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York already offer workers' comp for jockeys, and in some states owners pay a portion of the premium. Efforts to pass legislation in Kentucky, where the public would pick up the tab through a pari-mutuel takeout hike under the latest proposal, have failed.

Whitfield was one of the lawmakers who facilitated the 2005 Congressional inquiries into backstretch health and welfare issues, insurance, and the Jockeys' Guild, whose previous regime was under fire. The legislation has stemmed from those hearings.

"I think the jockey thing was so out of control," Whitfield said. "It was ridiculous. We felt we needed to put the spotlight on it. There will be legislation introduced, and I think it will be passed."

Racetracks in the Thoroughbred industry in early April formed a fund to provide money for disabled riders, whose Guild-operated benefits program was discontinued in early 2005.

Angie Gimmel, a spokeswoman for the Guild, said Guild chairman John Velazquez, interim national manager Darrell Haire, and attorney Barry Broad plan to attend and testify during the May 9 hearing. Gimmel indicated the hearing would move in a different direction given the fact the focus has shifted from the Guild's management team.

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