12/08/2009 12:00AM

NTRA helping to develop rules compact


TUCSON, Ariz. - The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has thrown its weight behind a project started by state racing commissions to create a federal compact that would allow states to adopt identical rules as a group.

Peggy Hendershot, the senior vice president of legislative affairs for the NTRA, said the association's board voted to support the project in September, approximately one year after officials in New York began laying the groundwork for the compact through draft legislation. If adopted, the compact would set up a committee comprising representatives of each participating racing commission, and that committee would review and adopt rules. Once adopted, the rules would automatically be enacted and enforced at the state level.

Broad support for the compact among racing states would solve a big problem for the NTRA by giving the racing industry a structure that resembles federal oversight of the sport. On multiple occasions over the past five years, federal legislators have criticized racing because rules differ from state to state and because there is no top-down structure to set and enforce those rules. The NTRA has emerged as the racing industry's main voice in Washington since being founded a decade ago, and it has been searching for a way to combat criticism about the fragmentation to aid its lobbying and public-relations efforts.

Hendershot said the compact would become effective if as few as the six states representing 50 percent of the total purse distribution voted to endorse it. In addition, because racetracks in 16 states currently distribute 90 percent of the purses, the racing industry would not need full compliance among all 38 states to create a structure that would provide, "for all intents and purposes, uniformity," Hendershot said.

"By Washington standards, this is the cheapest form of federalism you will ever see," Hendershot said.

The NTRA is currently assisting in the development of the legislation that would need to be passed by state lawmakers in order for the compact to be effective. The legislation was initially developed by officials of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, and the effort to create the compact was endorsed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International earlier this summer.

Lisa Underwood, the executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission and a member of the NTRA steering committee for the compact, said that she strongly supports implementation of the compact for Kentucky, which ranks sixth on the states with the highest gross purse distribution. She said the compact's committee would do the work that each racing commission currently must perform to vet rules, and that if a state disagreed strongly with a rule being considered for enactment, it could always refuse to accept that specific rule.

"It would make it more effective and far more efficient for all of us to update our regulations, especially something that's obvious, like regulations on safety helmets and vests," Underwood said. "And if you don't like it, you can just say, 'That's not for us.' "