06/20/2002 11:00PM

Letters to the editor

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

NTRA answers Internet, credit propositions

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has been asked in the last few days for its reaction, first, to the 15-12 House Judiciary Committee vote last week on a bill that, if enacted into law, would threaten legal, state-regulated wagering on horse racing involving communications via the Internet and, second, to a recent announcement by Citibank and the New York Attorney General's office that Citibank would block online gambling transactions using its credit cards.

As for the Judiciary Committee vote: The NTRA has been working closely with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) for the last year to protect legal interstate parimutuel wagering as Rep. Goodlatte has undertaken efforts to prohibit illegal, offshore gambling.

This year's Goodlatte bill, the Combating Illegal Gambling Reform and Modernization Act, prohibited most forms of wagering on the Internet but allowed interstate parimutuel wagering under the Interstate Horseracing Act, as amended in December 2000.

The current Goodlatte bill, however, became controversial after an amendment was offered that would have protected other forms of interstate gaming where specifically authorized by state law. Members of the committee objected to the new provisions as too broad. This led to striking all language pertaining to specific gaming interests, including racing's exemption.

The resulting legislation would be very harmful to the horse racing and breeding industries. By prohibiting currently legal aspects of parimutuel wagering and interstate simulcasting of horse racing, it would have immediate and serious negative impacts on both track revenues and owners' purse levels.

We do not believe the bill in its current form is a realistic candidate for passage in this Congress. It is fundamentally flawed and unfair. It fails to distinguish between legal and illegal wagering activities that utilize the Internet. It fails to recognize horse racing's legal and regulatory status under both federal and state law, compared with other forms of wagering.

Nor did the committee take into account the racing industry's status as the only major agribusiness (472,000 jobs) supported solely by legal, regulated, parimutuel wagering. As noted, if the Judiciary Committee bill were to become law, it would strip horse racing of current legal revenue sources (and be the only form of wagering so singled out and penalized).

Therefore, even though passage of this flawed and harmful bill is highly unlikely, the NTRA and the American Horse Council wish to underscore the industry's need to increase its Washington presence and advocacy efforts. We have begun to educate members of Congress on the fundamental differences between an agribusiness funded by legal wagering and other forms of gambling - starting with the recently established Congressional Horse Caucus - but much more needs to be done.

The Interstate Horseracing Act demonstrates Congressional intent to regulate and promote interstate electronic wagering on horse racing. This status under federal law must not be "rolled back" through the efforts of either anti-gambling interests or those of other, much different, forms of wagering competitors.

In regard to Citibank's policy statement: Citibank's stated purpose in adopting this policy is "to significantly reduce illegal Internet gambling." While it is presently unclear whether the Citibank policy would apply only to illegal online wagering (which we hope is the case) or could be construed as applying even to expressly legal wagering activities that involve communications via the Internet, we are in the process of seeking clarification on these issues and hope to work with Citibank and other parties to reach a constructive outcome.

Finally, while we do not believe legal, state-approved wagering on horse racing should be covered by the Citibank policy, we share their concerns related to problem gambling and recognize that there is a need for special policies and programs in regard to online wagering. The NTRA is a member of the National Council on Problem Gaming and requires progressive, "best practice" programs in this area for all NTRA-approved account or advance deposit wagering operators, in addition to any requirements of state law or regulation.

Greg Avioli, deputy commissioner

and chief operating officer,

National Thoroughbred Racing Association

Fairplex meet not unlike Mom and apple pie

Another chapter in the annals of horse racing in California will soon be written. For those who support the Los Angeles County Fair meeting at the Fairplex racetrack in Pomona, the chapter could be devastating.

According to all accounts, Magna Entertainment, the owner of Santa Anita, has signed and sealed a deal for the Los Angeles County Fair horse racing meeting at Fairplex to move to Santa Anita.

Magna and Fairplex management are pressuring the California Horse Racing Board to make a decision post haste to allow their agreement to go through because the Fairplex meeting is scheduled to begin on Sept. 13.

At the CHRB meeting at Bay Meadows on June 6, much discussion on this subject along with public input was brought forth. The Oak Tree Racing Association, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar voiced their opposition to the move.

John Harris of the CHRB, speaking in favor of racing at fair sites, said, "There is a vitality there that you don't see elsewhere." Mr. Harris hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the motion to deny the application for a change of venue failed on a 3-3 vote (with one abstention.) Thankfully, the board agreed to call a special meeting for June 26 for additional public input.

Anyone who has ever been to a horse race at a county fair can attest to its unique place in the racing world. The down-home atmosphere cannot be duplicated anywhere else. Add to that, in the instance of Fairplex, its legendary bullring. Your best-intended horse can lose the race by failing to negotiate the first turn, or likewise your horse might get a break by another horse going too wide into that first turn. Therein you have one of the things that sets Fairplex apart.

This attempt to move the fair meet from its rightful venue is indeed a sad one for racing purists. We can only hope when the CHRB holds their next meeting on this subject, that the wiser, rational heads will prevail, and that horse racing as we know and love at Fairplex, will remain there. This is a slice of Americana we do not want to lose.

Dave Hannold

Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Many reasons to keep race dates at Fairplex

I am writing because I am very concerned about the future of racing at Fairplex. I do not know all the reasons why the powers that be are so intent on ending racing there, but I do know many reasons to allow it to continue.

Fairplex has been the one track in Southern California where the trainers without the big guns and big money can flourish. It has given them and their owners the opportunity to be competitive and to reap some financial gain from all their hard work and tremendous investment. The level of competition and the structure of the purse payouts are a great incentive for them to continue to struggle in the mighty battle to bring their majestic but fragile charges to the races, where the state, the tracks, and the people all profit in various ways.

If Fairplex goes, these trainers and owners will have to ship north, or out of state, or will be driven out of business. And trainers who ship horses in for this meet will just stay home. Many involved in the game stand to lose their livelihoods.

The big tracks don't really want the extra days, anyway. The fair has always been a time when the big owners and trainers with the big horses and well-padded bank accounts can take a little breather. It has always been a time when the people struggling to pay for their next load of hay or their next meal (in that order) can breathe easier for a spell.

The California Horse Racing Board must consider what the meet at Fairplex has done for so many. Please consider the ripple effect that would be caused by its demise. Please consider the disappointment of al the fans who have loved coming to Fairplex during the Fair meet over the past six decades. Fairplex is an institution that should be allowed to stand and flourish. It will continue to replay Southern California in so many ways, as it always has.

Diana Leavengood Blanco

Valencia, Calif.