Officials Concerned About Plan to Amend Horseracing Act

Industry officials have expressed some discomfort with a lawmaker's plan to introduce legislation that would amend the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 to provide funds for workers' compensation insurance for jockeys.

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky told the Lexington Herald-Leader he may propose the legislation for consideration by Congress. Whitfield, who was instrumental in putting together Congressional hearings last year on jockey-related health and welfare issues, told the newspaper jockeys should be party to the simulcast contracts governed by the IHA.

"What we would accomplish here is so important, and would provide workers' comp for so many people," Whitfield told the newspaper.

The IHA authorizes simulcasts--the transmission of signals across state lines for wagering purposes--and 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.

The IHA was amended in 2000 to allow account wagering--pari-mutuel bets made by telephone or other electronic means. 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 location.

Whitfield said details of the legislation haven't been determined. A spokesman at his Washington, D.C., office couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

"It would open up a Pandora's box of issues that would create a tremendous amount of infighting in the industry," said attorney Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "It would be a very troublesome move for the industry. It's a mistake to toy with the Interstate Horseracing Act."

Greg Avioli, executive vice president of legislative and corporate planning for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said NTRA officials haven't seen the proposed legislation and have a policy of not commenting until they have the details. However, Avioli said the IHA is very important to the overall economics of the pari-mutuel industry.

"The (IHA) is fine in its current form and doesn't require any additional amendments," Avioli said.

As for jockeys' insurance, Avioli said the industry has "responded strongly" in the past year in terms of increasing minimum on-track accident coverage for riders. He noted most tracks now have insurance policies of $500,000 to $1 million, up from the $100,000 maximum many tracks had at the end of 2004.

"I think the industry is doing a good job to address the problem on its own," Avioli said.

Earlier this year, workers' comp became available at two Ohio racetracks. Other states with workers' comp for jockeys are California, Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.

It isn't known how an IHA amendment would be structured so as to provide jockeys with a cut of revenue from simulcasts in all racing states. The Jockeys' Guild in the past has expressed support for such a dedicated revenue plan.

Foreman questioned why an exemption would be carved out for jockeys in light of the fact "there are people working on the backstretch making far less money." And in debates over workers' comp insurance in some states, officials have questioned why exercise riders aren't included in coverage along with jockeys.