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National HBPA Hires Legislative Affairs Team

American Continental Group will represent the horsemen's group in Washington, D.C.

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has hired a Washington, D.C.-based firm to handle its legislative affairs given the organization is no longer a member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

American Continental Group, which has staff with interests in Thoroughbred racing, was selected by the National HBPA Executive Committee and introduced to affiliates Jan. 13 during the National HBPA winter convention in Hollywood Beach, Fla. ACG is a bipartisan group with some former congressional chiefs of staff among its lobbyists.

National HBPA president Joe Santanna said ACG was hired to preserve horsemen’s rights under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 and lobby on issues such as immigration, taxation, expansion of online gambling, equine medication, “and any other attempt to legislate changes that affect our membership and the horse racing industry in general.”

Santanna said all of the organization’s about 30 affiliates will be asked to contribute financially to support federal lobbying. Not all affiliates contributed to support the cost of the NTRA membership, which ended in 2011.

“We cannot afford to be without legislative and governmental representation in Washington, D.C.,” Santanna said.

ACG representatives Jan. 13 gave horsemen an overview of key issues on Capitol Hill, among them the recent opinion from the Department of Justice that the Wire Act only pertains to wagering on sports. The opinion opens up the possibility of intrastate online lotteries and poker games.

“It doesn’t provide absolute clarity because it’s a decision on the part of the Obama Justice Department,” ACG representative Manus Cooney said. “A new administration could come in and overturn the opinion. But there is a new push under way to have a new federal statute on the books. We need to make sure Congress doesn’t intentionally or unintentionally mess with the IHA.

“We may want to look at this as an opportunity to do more. The question for us now is do we want to see that develop or engage on the federal level in a positive way to perhaps get more out of the federal system?”

ACG representative Brian Fitzgerald said the situation in Congress is difficult but groups have to remain proactive.

“The system is broken but constituency matters,” Fitzgerald said. “We need to be out there talking to people."

Fitzgerald said he has met with American Horse Council president Jay Hickey, and plans to meet with NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop, to discuss legislative initiatives. He said it is “critical” for the National HBPA to work closely with both organizations, which have handled the bulk of lobbying for the Thoroughbred industry.

Charles Town HBPA president Ken Lowe suggested the National HBPA form a small committee that can regularly work with ACG. He said the racing and breeding industry should consider having a “National Thoroughbred Day” on Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress given the opportunities expanded online gambling could offer for horse racing.

“It’s a great opportunity, and we need to see if there is a way it can benefit us all,” Lowe said. “Someone told me it might be bigger than (racetrack slot machines) if we are part of the equation.”

Cooney, former chief counsel and staff director of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, founded Cairde Racing Stables and is partner in Blind Squirrel Racing. Fitzgerald, former majority staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee, owns Thoroughbreds in partnership in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Shawn Smealie, the third member of the ACG National HBPA lobbying team, is involved in West Point Thoroughbreds racing partnerships and in the past represented Churchill Downs Inc. and Ladbroke Racing as a lobbyist.