NTRA issues update on current, potential COVID-19 legislation

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: March 26, 2020

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association March 26 said it continues to review federal legislation tied to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and is looking ahead to potential bill tied to assistance for specific industries.

The United States Senate March 25 passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act—the CARES Act—and sent it to the House of Representatives for consideration. The NTRA said it expects the bill to pass the House and be signed by President Donald Trump.

The CARES Act, a $2 million economic stimulus package, is geared toward the overall economy with direct payments to many Americans, including individuals and couples; $130 billion to hospitals to combat the coronavirus; $500 billion for corporations; $367 billion for small businesses; $150 billion in aid for local and state governments; and billions of dollars in extended unemployment benefits for furloughed workers.

The NTRA outlined two other bills already passed by Congress and signed by the president:

The Coronavirus Preparedness Response and Supplemental Appropriations Act allows $1 billion in loan subsidies to be made available to help small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and non-profit organizations which have been impacted by financial losses as a result of the coronavirus. The NTRA advises that state small business administration offices be contacted for more details on how to access the program.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act establishes free testing, protects public health workers and provides important benefits to children and families for those impacted by the coronavirus. Protections for the employers of affected workers also are included in the legislation in the form of tax credits to offset the costs of providing emergency sick leave.

Assistance could also be available on the state level. For instance, Maryland has instituted the Small Business COVID-19 Emergency Relief Grant Fund, to assist small businesses with disrupted operations due to the virus. Grants up to $10,000 not to exceed three months of cash operating expenses are available for businesses with 50 or less employees. It is up to individual businesses to find out if they qualify for the grants.

In the NTRA release, Chief Executive Officer Alex Waldrop said lobbyists believe it’s likely a fourth federal bill could emerge should the crisis worsen.

“While the first three bills are aimed mostly at the general economy, the fourth bill may well focus on damage to specific economic sectors and efforts to help those sectors and their workers,” Waldrop said. “Undoubtedly, our industry has been adversely impacted with racetrack and casino closures, the postponement of equine sales, and other negative economic events necessitated by federal, state and local orders and recommendations as well as the industry’s own duty and responsibility to promote the safety of our workforce and public health in general.

“Our challenge with regard to this fourth bill will be to compete with many other industries for limited federal resources, especially since our industry is built most visibly on sports betting and entertainment. Nonetheless, we are significant employers and represent a massive agribusiness with an extensive economic footprint across the nation.

“We will make our case at the federal level for horse racing as we advocate for our $36.6 billion industry that accounts nationwide for nearly half a million jobs.”

With the exception of a handful of racetracks operating with no on-site patrons, Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing is shut down, as are the casinos from which many tracks derive purse revenue. Training continues at most facilities but income from regular racing operations isn’t being generated.

As of March 26, the following racetracks remained open for online wagering only: Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida; Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Golden Gate Fields, Santa Anita Park, Los Alamitos (Quarter Horse) and Cal Expo (harness) in California; Fonner Park in Nebraska; Will Rogers Downs and Remington Park (Quarter Horse) in Oklahoma.

Sports betting revenue in states that offer it has dried up given the shutdown of professional sports, and some Thoroughbred auctions have been canceled or postponed.

On March 26 The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation called for donations to assist backstretch workers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and said all donations to the foundation will be designated for COVID-19 relief until further notice.

The foundation’s current priority is addressing the immediate need to stock food pantries at racetracks around the country, and it is coordinating with the Race Track Chaplaincy of America in this effort.

“The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation works with chaplaincies and horsemen’s groups across the nation on a daily basis to help the men and women who care for our equine athletes and are the backbone of our industry,” Executive Director Shannon Kelly said in a release. “With many racetracks currently closed for live racing and instituting strict quarantine procedures due to the pandemic, backstretch families face significant financial strain, and the foundation is poised to utilize its resources to help those in need.”

More information on the Safety Net Foundation is available here.

The NTRA COVID-19 update page is available here.