National HBPA Wary of Proposed Amendment

The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said May 24 that, though it is "in complete support" of protection of live racing, a proposed amendment to the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 raises "some serious questions."

In a statement, the National HBPA said the amendment sponsored by New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone and supported by the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association stems from good intentions but could end up harming horsemen.

The proposed amendment, called the "Live Horseracing Protection Act of 2002," would differentiate between "host" and "off-track" horsemen's groups. The National HBPA said proposed language changes to the law "would, in effect, give the 'off-track,' or receiving representative horsemen's group(s) control over the 'host' or sending horsemen's group(s)."

Another "critical change," the National HBPA said, is insertion of the words "or" instead of "and," and insertion of "host horsemen's group or the off-track horsemen's group" in place of "horsemen's group" in sections of the act. The result could be "detrimental to the horsemen that produce a signal, the National HBPA said.

Said National HBPA president John Roark: "We are very concerned that if amended in this particular way, the (Interstate Horseracing Act) would give off-track horsemen's groups an unfair trump card over the very horsemen whose horses are the actors in the race. We must remember that the original proprietary justification of the (law) was that the host track serve, in effect, as the theater, and that the owners and trainers racing at that host track are the actors and that, in our view, they own the rights to the interstate wagering revenues on their own races."

Roark said the way he reads the proposed amendment, horsemen who decide not to send its signal to a racetrack could be overruled by that track, its horsemen, and even the track at which they races.

The Interstate Horseracing Act governs interstate wagering. It was amended in late 2000 to protect existing practices in the pari-mutuel wagering business at a time when unregulated Internet gambling is under fire. The racing industry has pushed hard to protect account wagering, which is a current practice.

The act governs simulcasting, which now makes the majority of handle in the United States. Racetracks and horsemen's groups figure in the equation when it comes to simulcast contracts.

In New Jersey, Thoroughbred horsemen have battled with the state Sports and Exposition Authority over live racing dates. Horsemen believe live racing needs protection, and the proposed Interstate Horseracing Act amendment would give them authority when it comes to signals brought into New Jersey tracks.

"The National HBPA is in complete support of the New Jersey THA's desire to protect live racing, but we need to work together, in consulation with the (National Thoroughbred Racing Association) and the American Horse Council, to ensure that any new or amended legislation considers all the possible ramifications those changes might entail," National HBPA executive director Remi Bellocq said.