Panel Stresses Benefits of Racing to Regulators

Despite divergent agendas, a blue ribbon panel from the Thoroughbred industry spoke to state lawmakers at the annual meeting of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States in Duck Key, Fla., Jan. 15.

The panel consisted of Jim McAlpine, president and CEO of Magna Entertainment Corp.; Andy Skehan, COO of Churchill Downs Inc.; Greg Avioli, executive vice president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association; Richard Hancock, executive vice president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association; Tim Smith, president of Friends of New York Racing; and Linda Mills, president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

"As good as any panel you can go to hear on Thoroughbred racing anywhere," NCLGS president Steven Geller, a state senator from Florida called it.

With an estimated 75 state and local level policy makers in attendance, the panel stressed the benefits of Thoroughbred racing to the public sector. "Legislators should look at gaming as an economic development tool," said Skehan. "And in our industry, the racing is just the tip of the iceberg."

Reiterating Magna's anti-regulation stand, McAlpine told the assemblage that the annual handle on U.S. Thoroughbred racing, now about $15 billion, has the potential to expand to over $180 billion.

"We have a great business that could be a heck of a lot better with your help," he said. "The government's role is not to protect one industry player from another."

With the federal indictment of 17 people in Southern District Court of New York fresh in the minds of many, NTRA's Avioli deviated from prepared remarks to try to reassure attendees about the integrity of racing. He pointed to last year's Wagering System Task Force Report as evidence that the industry recognizes the challenge. "Our ability to send (simulcast) signals out has outpaced our ability and your ability to regulate it," he admitted.

Hancock, Mills, and Smith each spoke about local concerns, presenting them in frameworks that could be widely applied.

Hancock recounted the migration of the Thoroughbred breeding industry to Kentucky before the Civil War as evidence of how quickly a state can lose its foothold in the business, while Smith, in addition to stressing the importance of New York racing, promoted racing to policy makers who heard from other sectors of the gaming industry during the three-day conference.

"The real danger is for racing to get passed by," said Smith. "If there are thoughts to expand gaming in your areas, you should expand it through the existing operators."

Although the panel did its best to sound unified, at least one member of the audience sensed disharmony. "The industry says it's together but it's not," said Tom Burch of the Kentucky House of Representatives. "I don't think you've figured out that all boats rise when the tide rolls in. It's only when you work together that legislation passes."