12/12/2013 3:37PM

Racing symposium: Federal drug oversight has weak support


TUCSON, Ariz. – Racing lobbyists expect to closely monitor several bills dealing with gambling or racing legislation over the next 10 months, even though action on many of the bills is unlikely, an expert on federal racing legislation said during the final panel of the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming on Thursday.

Jay Hickey, the president of the American Horse Council, said major pieces of gambling and racing legislation are unlikely to find widespread support next year because of upcoming mid-term elections, squabbling among Republicans, and “actual dislike” between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Still, racing lobbyists expect to closely track bills that would allow an agency tabbed by the federal government to set and enforce racing’s medication policies, along with a host of bills that could expand Internet gambling.

The medication bill had its first hearing a month ago, and Hickey said that so far there has been “limited interest in the bill.” A faction of the racing industry that supports a prohibition on raceday medication has rallied behind the bill, along with critics of racing’s current state-by-state regulatory structure, but many racing organizations remain wary of federal regulation of the sport because of the ease with which critics of racing could marginalize the sport through federal representatives sympathetic to their opposition.

“Racing does not want to go down that line to get the federal government involved in racing,” Hickey said, echoing the position of many of the equine organizations that are members of the AHC.

Hickey also said that racing lobbyists will continue to support protections to racing’s ability to conduct interstate wagering and Internet betting in bills that could expand legal online betting to other forms of gambling, including poker. A bill to legalize poker is expected to have the most support in Congress next year, although another bill to expand online gambling to all forms of betting may also clear several hurdles.

Some legislators are also attempting to convince the U.S. Attorney General to revisit an opinion issued last year on the federal Wire Act that opened up states to legalize online betting within their borders. Those legislators are largely anti-gambling, Hickey said, and because racing’s exemption under a federal prohibition of online gambling was still protected despite the reinterpretation, racing will need to be part of the conversation if the Attorney General takes up the question.

“If that happens, racing has to be right there to make sure our exemptions are protected,” Hickey said.

The panel also included a presentation by Sean Pinsonneault, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Woodbine Entertainment Group, who outlined the steps the provincial government of Ontario has taken over the past three years to end the “slots at racetracks” program, which provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the racing industry over the past 15 years through a partnership on slot machines at tracks, including Woodbine.

The program was canceled abruptly in 2012, but since then, government supporters of the cancellation have been forced to resign, and the new government has worked out a five-year agreement beginning in April 2014, that will allow many tracks to continue to operate slot machines, although with less support for purses and tracks.