NTRA safety alliance gets push in West Virginia

Posted: Sept. 3, 2016

West Virginia Racing Commission staff will explore, among other things, whether capital improvement money racetracks get from a video lottery terminal fund can be used to pay for accreditation through the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance.

The state’s two Thoroughbred tracks—Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort—aren’t among the more than 23 accredited tracks in North America that account for more than 70% of North American pari-mutuel handle.

Alliance executive director Steve Koch, based in Lexington, outlined the accreditation program during the Aug. 17 meeting of the WVRC. He was asked by the commission, not the tracks, to attend the meeting.

“In all cases so far, the alliance was hired by the racetrack,” Koch said, “but it’s not unheard of for a racing commission to require accreditation for licensure.”

The accreditation process, performed every two years after the initial go-around, would cost Mountaineer about $10,000 and Charles Town $15,000. WVRC member Bill Phillips asked if capital improvement funds from the excess VLT fund can be used for safety improvements.

The racetracks regularly are approved for improvements that have any tie to horse racing at their facilities, which also offer full casino gambling. On Aug. 17, for instance, Mountaineer was approved to use $91,000 from the fund to repave parking lots used by racing patrons and horsemen.

The accreditation costs “seem like a small amount of money in terms of safety,” Phillips said.

Senior deputy attorney general Kelli Talbott, who represents the WVRC, said she would research the funding matter as well as whether the commission can, by statute, require the two tracks to engage the services of the alliance.

Koch said the alliance, formed in 2008, is “driving the idea of continuous improvement. It has been a provocative change agent for the better of the racing program.”

Accreditation covers six primary areas: injury reporting and prevention of injuries; creating a safer environment for racing and training; encouraging adoption of uniform rules for medication, testing, and penalties; jockey health and safety; aftercare for retired racehorses; and ensuring wagering security.

“Racetrack management alone cannot achieve accreditation,” Koch said. “You need horsemen, jockeys, veterinarians, and regulators (to participate). And it’s not just for the well-funded. We’ve seen enormous obstacles overcome (to pay for accreditation).”

WVRC member Greg McDermott suggested, and the other two commissioners agreed, to “invite stakeholders to inform us of their positions on accreditation.” Track representatives opted not to comment during the meeting, but Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association president Randy Funkhouser offered his thoughts.

“We as horsemen have talked about and support the alliance,” he said. “We thank the commission for its interest in looking at this in the future.”

The WVRC at its September meeting will include an update on staff research into accreditation and the commission’s options under state statute.