Unification of Regulators Stalls; Drug Rules Approved

Model rules for the proposed national medication policy are moving forward, but the unification of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association apparently isn't going to happen anytime soon.

With the April 3 blessing of regulators, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium now can move forward and lobby regulators in each jurisdiction to implement the rules. Approval by RCI and NAPRA never appeared in doubt, but the joining of RCI and NAPRA into one organization proved a much tougher challenge.

The two organizations held a Joint Conference of Racing Regulators April 1-3 in New Orleans, and on several occasions speakers beat the drum for unification or complained of fragmentation in the pari-mutuel industry. Though RCI members widely supported unification, some NAPRA members seemed to be on the fence.

There were signs it wouldn't be a slam-dunk. During an April 2 panel discussion, NAPRA executive director Frank Lamb of Wyoming said he wanted to dispel the belief that regulators are fragmented, and he also said there are plans for a joint convention in 2005.

In comments to The Blood-Horse later that day, Lamb said there is no "set procedure" on how to move forward on unification, and also no guarantee NAPRA members would even vote on the proposal, which came about through a joint task force.

On April 3, the day the two boards met and concluded the joint convention, RCI president Lonny Powell said the task force put forth "excellent efforts and dialogue." He also said even if it's an overstatement to call the industry fragmented, duplication remains a problem.

"I think we have to say--at least with regulators' associations--whenever you have more than one, and a finite group of folks--it creates an element of competition," Powell said.

Some racing commissions hold memberships in both regulators' associations. NAPRA was formed in 1997 when several jurisdictions became disillusioned with the previous RCI regime, and over the next few years its membership grew. In recent years, however, there has been a spirit of cooperation.

NAPRA officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment. But Frank Zanzuccki, executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission and the new chairman of RCI, said he was "shocked" by the outcome.

"We're obviously shocked to learn all the progress we've made during the last seven months seems to have been lost," said Zanzuccki, a member of the task force that explored the merger. "We're really surprised the NAPRA membership rejected the recommendation of its own merger committee."

The 10-member committee charged with exploring the merger had five RCI members and five NAPRA members. RCI was represented by Norm Barron (Ohio), Charlie Gardiner (Louisiana), Powell, Lynda Tanaka (Ontario, Canada), and Zanzuccki. NAPRA was represented by Gary Belecki (Alberta, Canada), Stan Bowker (Virginia), Leary Claypool (Saskatchewan, Canada), Mike Hopkins (Maryland), and Dave Roberts (Florida).

Belecki was elected NAPRA president during the organization's April 3 board meeting.

NAPRA officials said they wanted to see more documentation in 30 days, but Zanzuccki said most of the paperwork already had been given to task force members. He also said NAPRA appointed a new chairman of the merger committee--Paul Bowlinger, executive director of the North Dakota Racing Commission--during the recent joint convention.

"It sounds like we're back to ground zero," Zanzuccki said.

The unification process actually had come a long way. There was agreement on a new set of bylaws for a new association, a willingness by RCI to move its offices to another location in Lexington, and a sharing of assets even though RCI holds considerably more of them. Both groups even agreed to come up with a new name for the regulators' group.

It wasn't immediately known whether RCI and NAPRA would continue to explore unification. However, Zanzuccki said there are important issues that need to dealt with--one of them is the overall pari-mutuel wagering system and related security issues--and RCI intends to move ahead.

"We as an organization have a lot of important issues to deal with," Zanzuccki said. "We're going to be very outspoken on issues. We're not going to stand still and focus on a merger. There are many other issues we need to focus on aggressively."