Horseracing Act Amendment May Be Ready in a Month

A Congressman from Kentucky said legislation that would amend the Interstate Horseracing Act to provide workers' compensation insurance for jockeys, backstretch workers, and trainers could be ready for consideration in about four weeks.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, who was instrumental in putting together Congressional hearings last year on health and welfare issues related to jockeys and backstretch employees, said March 20 he believes workers' comp could be addressed on the federal level. The IHA, which became law in 1978 and was amended in 2000, governs simulcasts across state lines.

"I'm talking to a lot of people and will continue to do so," Whitfield said. "I'm not trying to dictate anything. (The IHA) obviously is a good vehicle. When it was passed, simulcasting wasn't anywhere near producing the type of revenues it's producing today."

The IHA is extremely important to the pari-mutuel industry in that it authorizes interstate simulcasts--the transmission of signals across state lines for wagering purposes. The industry has been protective of the IHA because about 85% of wagers on racing are now made at a location other than the host racetrack, and most of the industry's revenue comes from such wagers.

The IHA also gives horsemen the right to refuse consent to have signals sent to specific locations. For a signal to be sent, the host racetrack, host horsemen's group, host racing commission, and receiving racing commission must all agree.

Industry officials have expressed concern about plans to tinker with the IHA, which came about after much industry debate in the 1970s over whether interstate wagering should even be permitted. Horsemen's groups were heavily involved in lobbying for passage of the IHA, which in 2000 was amended to allow for account wagering--the placing of bets by telephone or other electronic means.

"First of all, I think I'd be very reluctant to open up the IHA to any amendments," said Arkansas attorney Bill Walmsley, a member of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive committee. "Beyond that, I would not be in favor of opening it up, because a share of the revenue (to pay for workers' comp) would likely come from owners who already lose money as it is.

"I'm not so sure there is a national answer to the jockeys' insurance situation."

It was initially believed Whitfield's plan included only jockeys, but he indicated it has a much broader scope--backstretch employees and trainers. Whitfield said the IHA could be amended to provide the insurance, though details of the legislation are not yet available.

An official with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which has developed a lobbying network in Washington, D.C., said the organization would withhold comment until the actual legislation is written. However, Greg Avioli, executive vice president of legislative and corporate planning for the NTRA, said the IHA is "fine in its current form" and doesn't need to be amended.

Avioli also said the Thoroughbred industry has made progress in getting on-track accident insurance for jockeys increased from a maximum of $100,000 at the end of 2004 to $500,000 or $1 million at most tracks. In addition, two Ohio tracks began offering workers' comp this year; other states that offer workers' comp are California, Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.

Whitfield acknowledged amendment of the IHA is a sensitive topic.

"It is a sensitive issue since they wrote the bill, specifically the HBPA," Whitfield said. "We think without putting a financial burden on anyone, we can amend the Interstate Horseracing Act and provide insurance for those who want it, such as jockeys, backside (employees), and trainers. I'm sure the HBPA is not opposed to providing insurance (for those individuals)."

Though the Congressional hearings, held last October and November, were dominated by the state of the Jockeys' Guild and then-chief executive officer Dr. Wayne Gertmenian, their overall purpose was to examine working conditions for all individuals on the backstretch. The lack of insurance--or at least the difficulty in obtaining it and paying for it--was a key reason the hearings were held.