Ramon Dominguez

Ramon Dominguez

Coady Photography/Keeneland

State Lobbyists Stay Atop Guild Issues

Advocates outline their efforts at Jockeys' Guild Assembly Jan. 27 in Hollywood, Fla.

Amid a changing landscape of funding sources in horse racing, the Jockeys' Guild has turned to state lobbyists to help ensure its interests are considered.

Longtime Guild representative Barry Broad and two other lobbyists, along with retired rider Ramon Dominguez, updated Guild members on efforts in California, Kentucky, New York, and Ohio at the first of two days of presentations at the Jockeys' Guild Assembly Jan. 27 in Hollywood, Fla. 

With the sport facing economic challenges in many states, California attorney Broad was realistic in summing up the role of lobbyists representing the Guild, which has seen a surge in membership and finances since emerging from bankruptcy in late 2008 under the leadership of chairman John Velazquez and national manager Terry Meyocks.

Broad noted the closing of Betfair Hollywood Park as the latest example of California's problems. He said as the industry considers funding opportunities from Internet poker, exchange wagering, and other added-gaming options, the Guild well be well-represented at the table.

"As the industry works to try to get a little more money, we'll work to make sure there's a little piece of it for us," Broad said.

Kentucky lobbyist Bill May said the Guild has shifted from a reactive mode on new industry legislation and revenue sources, to a more active role by working with the industry to pass such measures while attempting to have rules in place from the beginning to address jockey concerns.

Some of the concerns addressed at the Monday morning session included funding to match rider contributions to health insurance, funding for retirement (pensions or individual plans), increased fees for losing mounts, and updated regulations to improve equine and rider safety.

"Unlike the past, we're on the front line," May said, adding that the main focus for the next three months will be to clear legislative hurdles that will allow added-gaming in Kentucky. He said until that goal is reached, he will only be able to address smaller issues for Kentucky riders.

May said the Guild has been working with horsemen on a plan that could bring workers' compensation to the state for riders. He said one plan being discussed would include exercise riders, which he said would be more likely to generate support from horsemen.

Dominguez updated Guild members on a New York task force, of which he is a member, focused on jockey health and safety issues. He said subsidies for jockey health insurance similar to plans in Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey are being considered. Dominguez believes current revenue sources in the state could address the problem.

"We believe these needs could be resolved by the already existent sources," Dominguez said. "The fact that this task force has been created is a big step forward; something very positive."

In Ohio, lobbyist John Izzo noted that the riders are working to make sure long-standing concerns are addressed now that the state will provide the industry an infusion of added-gaming money.

Izzo said riders should be eligible for funds from the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Health Fund, a benevolent, non-profit organization set up by statute in the state. The fund, which some horsemen believe should be solely for the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, would help participants with medical and dental expenses. 

Guild regional manager Jeff Johnston said a recent application for reimbursement to the fund by a jockey was denied, although he was still researching the reasons for that denial. Izzo said the Guild will take the issue to the Ohio State Racing Commission and then to court if needed.

In Ohio, the Guild also hopes to improve the schedule on losing mount fees, which the Guild said can be as low as $38, while improving regulation. The Guild would like to see consistent pre-race veterinary examinations of horses and additional oversight of shockwave therapy treatments.

With lobbyist Larry Swann, of West Virginia, due in on Jan. 28, Guild counsel Mindy Coleman said continuing efforts to receive health insurance funding from the owners of Charles Town Races & Slots, Penn National Gaming; and Mountaineer Casino, Race Track, & Resort, MTR Gaming will be an important point of emphasis in the state in 2014. 

Later in the morning Chip Atkins of Robert Clarkson Insurance outlined and offered future assistance for riders looking to navigate health care under the Affordable Care Act. With those new insurance options available, Meyocks said it is a priority for all tracks to contribute funding for jockey health insurance. 

Later in the day, the Guild discussed ideas of promoting the sport. Broad said all efforts are needed to turn around the industry and improve revenues, and available funds, from the actual sport as opposed to added-gaming sources.

"The industry is going to have to come up with what it's going to do, which it has a hard time doing because they spend so much time fighting with one another," Broad said. "We haven't quite figured out how to modernize the sport to attract new fans."