08/25/2009 12:00AM

Regulators seek a national rules partnership

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - North American regulators are exploring the possibility of creating an interstate partnership that would allow state racing commissions to cooperate on the adoption of model rules, according to officials involved in the process.

The partnership, known as an interstate compact, would create an official umbrella organization for state racing commissions without entailing the consistent involvement of the federal government. Supporters of the concept contend that wide participation by racing states in the partnership would significantly improve the sport's ability to adopt model rules and more rapidly address changes in the regulatory landscape.

The compact concept has already been endorsed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International and The Jockey Club, and representatives from 18 state racing commissions recently participated in a discussion regarding the compact's implementation, according to Ed Martin, the executive director of the RCI.

Martin said that significant progress on the compact has been made over the past 18 months in a series of discussions with racing commissions and legal advisers who have been consulted on drafting the complex legislation that would be necessary to create the organization. At this point, the RCI is working on a draft piece of legislation developed by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board that the association hopes to distribute to interested racing commissions in the next six months.

"We're using the New York bill as a base to work on between now and January," Martin said. "The final draft will be distributed to legislatures as a guide as to what would be needed to participate in the entity."

The compact would work by creating a board made up of representatives of the participating states. The board could vote on the rules that the states are considering for adoption, and if the resolution passes, the rule would be added immediately to the states' books, without additional adoption procedures such as public-comment periods and legislative approval.

Despite the benefits that are cited by supporters, the effort faces significant hurdles. Racing is currently regulated on a state-by-state basis, by racing commissions that frequently cite their own needs or beliefs when crafting regulations based on even seemingly mundane model rules. Many racing commissions may be reluctant to give up those abilities to serve local constituencies.

Furthermore, state legislatures would need to pass bills authorizing racing commissions to participate in the compact, and many legislatures may chafe at the prospect of ceding their authority to the majority will of a collection of other states.

Supporters, including The Jockey Club's executive director, Dan Fick, contend that the bill drafted by the New York commission protects local authority by allowing individual states to opt out of specific rules that are adopted by the full board. In a letter to John Sabini, the chairman of the New York racing board, Fick called the compact a "win-win" for racing.

"The states will still license racing associations, grant race dates, supervise the running of the races, enforce the rules, ensure integrity and other important issues on the local level," Fick wrote. "The win-win will be that the horsemen, racing fans, and the betting public have the potential for uniform regulation across state lines."