California Grants Extended Health Benefits to Stable Workers

From California Horse Racing Board
Stable area workers and their dependents will be eligible for extended health care under changes supported Friday by the California Horse Racing Board.

The Board voted to begin the regulatory process for changes to rules governing operations of the California Thoroughbred Horsemen's Foundation, a benevolent organization for backstretch employees who care for horses, such as grooms and hot walkers, providing them with medical and dental benefits. The primary source of funds for the CTHF's annual budget of about $2 million is a 50-percent share of uncashed pari-mutuel tickets wagered on live local races.

Clifford Goodrich, the CTHF chief executive officer, explained that under current rules, people who work in the industry for years nonetheless lose their CTHF coverage on the day they retire or leave the job. He advocated extending the benefits for 12 months beyond the term of employment to give them sufficient time to arrange for alternative coverage.

The Board also approved for notice changes to more clearly define the term "dependent" as the dependent spouse or child of the person who is eligible for CTHF benefits, to add as many as four more non-compensated directors to the CTHF board, and to increase the allowable administrative expense of the CTHF to 15 percent from 10 percent.

"The CTHF has had problems," explained Goodrich. "We need to add more directors to the Board (from the current five) who will bring a network of people with them." He added that the increase in administrative expenses will allow the CTHF to maintain proper approvals and internal controls. Goodrich also said the CTHF is seeking additional revenue from federal, state, local, and private sources.

In other business, chairman Robert Tourtelot and commissioners Sheryl Granzella, John Harris, Marie Moretti, and Alan Landsburg welcomed two newly appointed commissioners, Roger Licht and William Bianco, to their first meeting. The appointments bring the Board up to its full strength of seven members.

Chairman Tourtelot acknowledged a request by Hollywood Park to switch all but one of its upcoming Friday night programs to twilight hours due to the energy crisis, and indicated that CHRB Executive Director Roy Wood will administratively authorize the change.

Hollywood Park will proceed as scheduled with a 7:15 p.m. post on opening night, Friday, April 20, but first post will be 3:30 p.m. for the rest of the Fridays during the meet through July 16. Track President Rick Baedeker said special promotions are being planned to attract customers to remain for the night simulcast program from Bay Meadows after the live program concludes in Inglewood. The two programs should end and begin at approximately the same time.

Following published reports of computer-linked betting by a high-rolling gambler in North Dakota, the Board heard from John Reagan, the CHRB's senior management auditor. He explained that he has been working with auditors in other states since last year to identify the nature of the unusual activity centered in North Dakota, which involved wagers on races throughout the country, including Florida and California.

"We were concerned about a possible manipulation of the pools, but our investigation determined there was no past-posting or anything like that going on," explained Reagan. "Then the people in Florida determined that an individual had a direct link into the totalizator system, allowing him direct access to make rapid wagers through a computer. We contacted North Dakota and advised them that the California signal would be dropped unless the individual's computer link was suspended. We received assurances that his link had been severed. We will continue to monitor the situation."

Jack Liebau, representing Santa Anita, Bay Meadows, and Golden Gate Fields, said he also contacted wagering officials in North Dakota with the threat of cutting off the signal and received similar assurances that the individual no longer has any unfair advantage over other bettors.

Commissioner Licht said it is critical for the industry and the Board to "reassure the public we are doing everything possible to maintain the integrity of the pari-mutuel pools."

The Board approved the license for the San Joaquin County Fair to conduct a fair meet in Stockton from June 13 through June 24.

The Board authorized the Los Alamitos Quarter Horse Racing Association to add one Thursday night program, April 26, in order to accommodate an increase in the horse population, primarily 2-year-olds.

The Board authorized the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club to distribute $172,000 in charity race day proceeds to 21 beneficiaries, 65 percent of which will go to equine-related charities, such as the California Center for Equine Health and Performance ($20,000), the Winners Foundation ($15,000), and the CTHF ($5,000).

Liebau advised the Board that Bay Area racing veterinarians are meeting with the architect for a new equine hospital that will be constructed on the grounds at Golden Gate as soon as the necessary approvals are received from the City of Albany. He said the new hospital will be approximately the same size as the one already in place in the Santa Anita stable area.