Pennsylvania commission votes to enter nine-month agreements with HISA

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: March 21, 2023

The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission March 21 voted to enter into three nine-month agreements with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority by which those currently employed by the commission will carry out their duties under the direction of HISA and its Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit.

The approval is for the current Racetrack Safety Program, which began in July 2022; the Intergovernmental Cooperative Agreement, which pertains to HISA and HIWU using PHRC staff; and the Laboratory Services Agreement, which in this case pertains to the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory, which handles equine drug testing in the state. The HISA Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program is scheduled to begin March 27, but as was noted during the meeting, the Federal Trade Commission has not yet approved the rules.

PHRC officials indicated the situation is not ideal. They said if the PHRC did not enter into the agreements, the Thoroughbred racetracks and horsemen’s groups in the state would have to absorb the $6 million HISA assessment for the last nine months of 2023. Based on a credit reimbursement system under HISA, the cost of the AMDC Program would drop to roughly $1.2 million based on projections, PHRC Thoroughbred Bureau Director Tom Chuckas said.

Chuckas and others said another concern is that live Thoroughbred racing could cease at Parx Racing and Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, both of which are currently open, if HISA was unable to provide staff to implement its programs.

“They don’t have the people in place—does that not raise a red flag for anybody?” Todd Mostoller, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said during a comment period before the vote. “The FTC has not approved the rules (six days before the start of the ADMC Program). You’re making an assumption HISA doesn’t have the employees to conduct what they rushed into?”

The PAHBPA is one of multiple horsemen’s groups seeking to enjoin one of the lawsuits that continues to make its way through the court system.

The PHRC and HISA have been negotiating for about 18 months, and PHRC Chairman Russell Redding, who serves as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, indicated the process has been somewhat difficult. In response to Mostoller’s comments about a possible suspension of live racing, Redding said: “We would have a higher confidence level (that racing wouldn’t cease) but we were not prepared to take that risk given the track record of the last year and a half. … We appreciate everyone’s support, and let’s hope we can navigate our way through this.”

Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson and Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Executive Director Jeff Matty acknowledged the concerns of the PAHBA and others regarding the uncertainly of HISA given ongoing litigation challenging various aspects of the federal law, and lack of assurance that full credits will be paid to the PHRC. They both said, however, that it’s important to have the three agreements in place.

“We race in six days,” Wilson said. “If we don’t do this, we don’t race in six days. Like it or not, we need to deal with reality.”

PHRC counsel Jorge Augusto said having only a nine-month agreement “gives an opportunity for the commission to analyze what is working and what isn’t working.”

Standardbred racing is not covered under HISA, but the United States Trotting Association is a party in the litigation. Russell Williams, President of Hanover Shoe Farm in Pennsylvania and President of the USTA, told the commission he lauds its efforts to ensure Pennsylvania racing is protected and prospers but said there is a negative side if HISA is not held accountable for the assessments.

Williams also said a member of the United States Congress has signed on to sponsor legislation that would provide a “state-administered program” through a federal compact. He said the program outlined in the legislation, to be introduced shortly, would be similar to HISA but with an affordable funding model and no ban on use of the race-day medication Lasix.