Racing Making Strides, NTRA Rep Tells Legislators

Racing is making significant strides in a number of important areas, but needs legislative assistance in others, a representative of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association told a panel of legislators from gaming states Friday during a meeting in Las Vegas.

Kenneth Kirchner, the NTRA's senior vice president for product development, told the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States' pari-mutuel committee meeting at Harrah's that the racing industry's two-year-old medication uniformity consortium recently reported that it is three to six months away from announcing its recommendations for a national standard in the use of anti-bleeding medications such as Lasix and other anti-inflammatories.

It was one of several topics he addressed during the committee hearing on behalf of the racing industry.

"There has been substantial progress in this vital area," he told the panel of 10 committee members. "Racing is legal in 42 states and I'm fairly confident there are 42 different medication policies. It's really not fair to horsemen who are increasingly shipping horses to different states to race to have so many different rules. It's not a fair policy ... when they are disqualified for giving something that would be the equivalent of aspirin (to humans) because standards are so different in each jurisdiction. It's bad for the sport because the perception of the public and the media are that our horses are on drugs."

Kirchner said a recent "super drug testing" of more than 1,000 samples for all types of medications revealed a 2% positive rate.

"Drugs are not rampant on the racetrack," he concluded.

"We can help press (standardized medication) legislation in our states," Florida state senator Steven Geller, the president of the NCLGS, told the audience, which included another dozen legislators from around the country. He added that drug testing is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Ben Nolt, of the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission, agreed. "The control system is there and it does work."

Kirchner also reported that racing is making progress in keeping itself separated from attempts in Congress to ban Internet wagering, which is now legal in 18 states. But he said the industry is wrestling with what to do about the $1 billion-a-year offshore wagering operations while Congress attempts to stop use of credit cards for gambling purposes. He said work continues in the high technology area of tote security to ensure no repeat of the 2002 Breeders' Cup "Fix Six" scandal.

In an effort to bring new revenue to the sport, he called for legislation to loosen restrictions on international betting on races in the United States and to help with the expansion of slot machines.

"We're working diligently with several countries to expand international betting," Kirchner said. He noted that nearly 10% of the $120 million wagered on last year's Breeders' Cup series came from sources outside of American borders. But he said the Internal Revenue Service taxes such wagering at a rate of 30%, which forces even Canada and Mexico to maintain separate pools.

"Eighty-five billion annually is wagered internationally on horse racing," he said.

Kirchner said progress has been made in expanding slot machines to the tracks, "resulting in significant increases in purses at those racetracks." Major racing states such as Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, California and Florida are exploring the potential, he noted.

"Purse subsidies are crucially important to our industry," he added. "But they have not grown significantly in the past few years. Eighty percent of horsemen lose money on an annual basis."

He noted that Thoroughbred racing alone accounts for 472,000 jobs nationwide. He said that is just one reason that racetracks must be included in any discussion of slot machines.

"Horse racing is taxed quite heavily and generally, those moneys do not come back to the track," Kirchner said.