United Maryland racing industry offers testimony on multiple bills

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: March 1, 2018

Maryland horse industry representatives were front and center Feb. 28 during a House Ways and Means Committee meeting at which lawmakers took testimony on several bills that would impact racing.

The bills deal with an interstate compact for medication and drug-testing standards; a statewide referendum on sports betting; and a proposal to shift up to 1% of the Purse Dedication Fund to grant programs for retired horses.

The purpose of the compact legislation, co-sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chair Del. Anne Kaiser, is to “enable member states to act jointly and cooperatively to create more uniform, effective, and efficient breed-specific rules and regulations relating to the permitted and prohibited use of drugs and medications for the health and welfare of the horse and the integrity of racing, and testing for such substances.” It is designed to allow member states to adopt rules simultaneously to expedite uniformity.

A compact rule would only take effect via super-majority affirmative vote of 80% of the members; each state would designate one compact representative. Each rule proposed by the compact would be published in each member state and subject to the customary comment period before a vote is taken.

“This compact shall not be construed to diminish or limit the powers and responsibilities of the member state racing commission or similar regulatory body, or to invalidate any action it has previously taken, except to the extent it has, by its compact delegate, expressed its consent to a specific rule or other action of the compact commission,” the legislation states.

Compact members would, as is the case now, rely on model rules agreed upon by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and Association of Racing Commissioners International.

Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Chairman Alan Foreman told the Ways and Means Committee that for the past five years the Mid-Atlantic states and New York have worked collectively on uniform medication rules and drug-testing standards, but adoption time varies from state to state because of statutory requirements.

“The compact will allow states to adopt rules at the same time,” Foreman said, noting Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia support the legislation. “They will all be working over the next year or so to adopt identical language.”

Maryland THA President Tim Keefe said the compact is important because at times horsemen who regularly ship to race in multiple states may not know when new rules or updates are in place. Maryland Jockey Club officials also told lawmakers they support the compact.

“The Maryland Racing Commission fully supports the effort,” MRC Executive Director Mike Hopkins said. “There is national interest that this takes off and works well. Other states are very interested in joining the compact.”

The MRC discussed and gave its approval for the medication compact during its Feb. 22 meeting.

Del. Frank Turner, a co-sponsor of the sports betting legislation, said it’s tied to what happens on the federal level in regard to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which in 1992 banned wagering on sports in all but four states. New Jersey parties, including the New Jersey THA, several years ago took the lead by challenging PASPA; the case is now in the hands of the United States Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a ruling this spring.

The Maryland bill offers no framework other than to say the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission would issue licenses only to casinos and racetracks in the state. Details on operation of sports betting and revenue splits would come in enabling legislation.

Maryland racing industry representatives told the Ways and Means Committee they endorse the legalization of sports betting. MJC President Sal Sinatra noted work is underway to renovate space at Laurel Park for sports betting.

“It took Maryland a long while to catch up with neighboring states (with casino gambling),” Sinatra said. “To be competitive, we’d like to have sports betting. We’ve already been doing things at Laurel and Rosecroft to introduce new people to racing, and this would be a natural fit.”

“It’s going to happen nationally,” Foreman said. “All of the regional players are involved in horse racing, so we’re looking to protect the horse industry.”

Industry representatives didn’t speak in favor of the bill that would transfer up to 1% of revenue purse accounts receive from casino video lottery terminals to the Maryland Horse Industry Board to be used for retired racehorses and sanctuary Thoroughbreds. They noted that the Thoroughbred industry, through a cooperative program that was launched in the spring of 2017, already works with partner farms to find homes for retired racehorses.

Beyond The Wire, which derives funding from the Maryland THA, Maryland Horse Breeders Association, MJC, horse owners, and jockeys, has accepted more than 50 horses since last May. It also has expanded its network of Thoroughbred Aftercare Association-accredited facilities that take the horses and re-home them.

“Maryland has been one of the best in the country at caring for horses,” MHBA Executive Director Crickett Goodall told the committee. “We’re all supporting these programs—financially and without question.”

“Most owners take care of their retired racehorses,” said trainer Katy Voss, a board member of the MTHA. “The minority need assistance, and that’s what this program was designed to do.”

Keefe said the program is working in regard to its mission and financial structure, and that “if for some reason down the road there is a need for more funding, we’re going to find out how to do that.”

Thoroughbred and Standardbred representatives also said funding through the Purse Dedication Account is largely responsible for the “renaissance” in Maryland racing and breeding, and that diluting could negatively impact future growth in the industry.

Del. Carol Krimm, one of several co-sponsors on the bill, said she supports the horseracing industry and that Maryland “has a responsibility to these animals when they are retired.”

(Photo by Tom LaMarra)