Human nature being such as it is, there is a strong tendency to blame others for our troubles. In the racing industry, a popular target of our rants is government.
In fairness, our rage is not always completely misplaced.
In Nevada and New Jersey, government has recently decided to prop up their respective moribund casino industries by facilitating intrastate internet poker gaming. By permitting only in-state computer wagering, the thought is that these two states’ legislation will legally circumvent whatever federal prohibitions against cross-border wagering still exist. Worse yet, the chairman of Nevada’s Gaming Control Board is actively considering entering into compacts with the governments of other states. By supplying internet poker licensing rights to other states via individual compacts, Nevada’s government believes that any online gaming ban established under the federal interstate commerce clause would be rendered inapplicable.
The question regarding internet poker’s negative effect upon pari-mutuel horseracing is not whether it will have such an effect, but rather how severely it will impact our handle. Like legal lotteries and illegal wagering on things like college and pro football, on-line poker will be yet another major point of competition for finite gambling dollars.
Moreover, proposals have once again been introduced in the United States Congress and elsewhere seeking the absolute ban on all race day medications. While purportedly well meaning, these measures, couched in terms of banning so-called “performance enhancing” substances, almost always fail to discriminate between illicit drugs used to “juice” a horse and medications that have an arguably legitimate therapeutic value like Lasix (Salix). Rather than serve the purpose of true integrity, these broadly phrased measures seek to placate the clamors of members of the general public who, for the most part, know little or nothing about the appropriate care, maintenance and treatment of horses.
Conversely, government has often implemented laws which have proven to be highly beneficial to the industry. Video Lottery terminal legislation has literally saved horse racing in several jurisdictions, while minimum race date legislation makes certain that video lottery gaming’s benefits are not diluted through less and less racing. The Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 ensures that simulcast feeds are able to be widely distributed, but only with the prior consent of all affected parties.
When government attempts to do something that provides the overall industry with needed and significant assistance, we should not only embrace the effort; we should applaud it! On this score, consider the recent legislative introduction of J. Gary Pretlow, Chairman of the Racing and Wagering Committee in the New York State Assembly:
I Love NY Racing promotion. The New York state gaming commission shall, in cooperation with the racing fan advisory board, and in cooperation with the commissioner of agriculture and markets, and the commissioner of economic development, create an I Love NY Racing promotion. Such promotion shall cause grants to be made to the racing industry pursuant to appropriation for such purpose. Such grants shall be made to tourism promotion agencies and not-for-profit corporations, who shall work with the racing fan advisory board to develop the promotion of harness and thoroughbred racing. Such promotions shall include tours of race tracks, horse training and breeding farms, and educational events to teach racing fans about the sport of horse racing.
At a time when many inside the sport are harshly critical about a perceived lack of marketing and promotion of racing, this senior legislator recognizes not only the significant contribution the industry makes to the state’s economy, but also the unique beauty and excitement racing and breeding facilities have to offer. By encouraging the allocation of state tourism dollars towards promoting the sport’s varied venues, Chairman Pretlow is working towards exposing our industry to a populace that might not otherwise realize its charm.
Those of us who did not grow up in an industry family caught the racing “bug” by being mentored by a relative or close friend, and the usual tutorial involved that fine art / science / witchcraft / fill in the blank, known as handicapping. More formalized educational field trips not just to the track’s mutuel windows, but also to the backside, training centers and breeding farms encourage investment, not simply wagering. Expanding the base of owners and breeders not only provides additional jobs and revenue for a state’s economy, but also serves to increase the number of folks with a vested interest in seeing that the economics of the industry are preserved.
Chairman Pretlow has additionally authored legislation which would exempt New York’s racing producers and retailers (OTBs) from federal and state antitrust prohibitions. A long-standing decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allows states to grant immunity from antitrust laws to certain government sanctioned activities. If approved, this legislation would permit racing producers and retailers to join forces and to sell and/or purchase broadcast and simulcast rights and thus help reduce overhead costs.
In Maryland, Senator Bryan Simonaire introduced a bill last month that would guarantee a licensee ejected by a racetrack operator the right to appeal his or her ejection to the State Racing Commission. The legislation protects racetrack operators by preventing appeals by licensees seeking to challenge employment terminations by the track, and would not apply to patrons. This introduction follows a trend started in West Virginia. While the Maryland proposal fails to set forth any standard by which the Commission may reject, affirm or modify any ejection, it would appear that racetracks would need to provide objective and verifiable reasons to support any exclusion of a licensed horseman from participating in racing at their facilities.
As industry participants and fans, our hats should be off to Chairman Pretlow, Senator Simonaire and other legislators at all levels of government for not only understanding our needs, but also taking the time and effort to implement what is needed.
 N.Y. Assembly Bill # A04154; introduced February 1, 2013
 N.Y. Assembly Bill # A03979; introduced January 30, 2013
 Maryland Senate Bill 858; introduced February 7, 2013
Editor's Note: The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.