NTRA issues update on current, potential COVID-19 legislation

Updated April 1, 2020

Racing industry officials, lobbyists and accountants on April 1 said recently-passed federal legislation to assist businesses and individuals impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic does offer opportunities for financial relief, though they continue analyzing the language to obtain more clarity.

The individuals spoke during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association-sponsored teleconference on the legislation and any future action on Capitol Hill.

“Like virtually every industry and sport, we are grappling with uncertainties,” NTRA Chief Executive Officer Alex Waldrop said. “Thousands of people have had their lives disrupted in ways we couldn’t have imagined a short time ago. These are not stimulus (packages). They are emergency responses.”

Waldrop said industry financial losses brought about by a shutdown of most live racing operations are “massive.”

Greg Means, a founder of The Alpine Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm that counts the NTRA among its longtime clients, said the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act “is relatively short-term in nature and aimed to basically triage the current situation.” He said the bill’s provisions aren’t industry-specific for the most part, and that most likely there will a fourth bill dealing with economic recovery measures.

Two other bills passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump are the Coronavirus Preparedness Response and Supplemental Appropriations Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The CARES Act includes the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and the Paycheck Protection Loan program, both of which were discussed on the teleconference by Jen Shah, director of tax services and head of the equine division at Dean Dorton, a Kentucky accounting firm.

Shah said the EIDL program, administered by the federal Small Business Association, is open to racing stable, owners, trainers, bloodstock agents and sale consignors, among others. It offers an emergency advance of up to $10,000 as part of a loan and is available to a business with less than $12 million in annual revenue.

The $349 billion PPL program, which is available to business with 500 or fewer employees and the self-employed, also applies to trainers and others in the industry, Shah said. Individuals are urged to contact their accountants or tax advisers for confirmation.

Shah encouraged those who think they may qualify for any of the programs to apply as soon as possible.

The NTRA is working to clarify—and perhaps advocate for SBA language changes—the status of racetracks and breeding farms in various legislation.

“This was hastily put together, and using the Small Business Association as a vehicle is typically not what (Congress does),” Means said. “We have lobbyists talking to the SBA about the intent of Congress. It’s in progress to say the least.”

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.

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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.