State Legislators Told Compact Viable Option

State legislators from around the United States were told July 27 a proposed interstate compact for racing and wagering is a viable means of promoting uniformity in the industry and fighting off threats of federal intervention.

Legislators took part in a horse racing forum that was part of the four-day National Conference of State Legislators in Louisville, Ky. The conference covered a wide range of issues relevant to state governments.

The National Racing Compact, the idea for which began to pick up steam last year, would facilitate adoption of rules in member states but wouldn’t usurp state sovereignty, said Rick Goodell of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. The compact needs six member states to launch; officials said that could happen in 2011.

“Short of those who don’t get it or have another agenda, (the compact) is widely supported,” said Goodell, the point man for the project. “We’re not out there doing things some people say we’re doing. We want to build on our existing system and improve it.”

Naysayers fear rules and regulations will be shoved down the throats of states, while some supporters believe the proposed compact’s opt-out provisions could take away its effectiveness.

Goodell said organizers have decided not to attempt to launch the NRC by mandatory fees that would be largely used to pay staff. He said existing organizations such as the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which supports the compact plan, would absorb those responsibilities.

National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop said the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, formed in 2009, could work with the NRC. He said the alliance was formed because officials believed launching a compact would take more time.

“It was our way to move regulation forward quickly and to answer questions of the public (concerned about safety and integrity issues in racing),” Waldrop said. “We’re trying to push the standards of the industry higher.”

Republican Kentucky Senate President David Williams, co-chairman of the NCSL host committee, said he has studied national compacts over the past year and is “convinced interstate compacts are a very valuable tool to prevent federal intervention.” Republican Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer, who spoke during the forum, agreed.

Thayer suggested a middle-of-the-road approach between total deregulation and opening up the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 to allow for federal intervention.

“The thought of the federal government or federal bureaucrats running horse racing makes me pretty nervous,” Thayer said.

The NCSL convention attracted hundreds of exhibitors with interests in state government, and a wide range at that—the National Rifle Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Beer Institute, and the American Association for Nude Recreation, to name a few.

The gaming industry was represented by Harrah’s Entertainment, which owns some racetracks, and International Game Technology, which produces lottery and gaming machines.

Williams said he will suggest horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering become a regular part of the agenda at the annual NCSL convention.

“When we come to the table for limited purposes (such as discussing the interstate compact), other larger issues may be addressed at a later date,” he said.

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