WVRC adopts medication rules package; legislative approval required

Posted: July 12, 2021

The West Virginia Racing Commission July 12 adopted several rules that will be submitted to the state legislature for consideration, including three medication-related model rules already in place in other jurisdictions in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The rules pertain to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, particularly a 48-hour withdrawal time, testing threshold levels and penalties; a 14-day withdrawal time for corticosteroid joint injections; and veterinary approval for the use of the bronchodilator clenbuterol. All of them are model rules adopted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

The WVRC also adopted a rule that would permit the payment of purse money within 48 hours of race if owners enter into an indemnification agreement. Pending further discussion this week, the maximum amount of any released purse money could vary at the state’s two Thoroughbred tracks, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.

Several other states have similar programs in place to keep owners from having to wait for the release of their money due to delays in the receipt of equine drug-testing results.

The WVRC in 2020 considered the updated medication rules for submittal to the Secretary of State for review, but they did not pass. The Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Mountaineer HBPA both opposed the proposed rules last year and in 2021 during the written public comment process, and could lobby lawmakers in 2021 to reject them.

The regional group of stakeholders—West Virginia included—that created and execute the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities submitted written comments in support of the proposed medication rules.

There are other issues as noted by Kelli Talbott, Senior Deputy Attorney General for the WVRC. Gov. Jim Justice in 2020 issued an executive order for a moratorium on adoption of new regulations unless they met strict criteria, and he reissued a tougher moratorium this year.

“The governor doubled down on the 2020 moratorium,” Talbott said. “We’re not sure how narrow or broad (the exceptions are) and we’re not sure how it will impact any proposed rules going forward. And we can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

Talbott also spoke in reference to the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020, which is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2022. She noted there are active lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of HISA but said if the federal law takes effect as scheduled, any West Virginia rules not compatible with those put forth by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority would be superseded.

WVRC Chairman Ken Lowe, a Thoroughbred owner and a former President of the Charles Town HBPA, said he wanted to get the matter resolved but made it known his support for the medication rule package this year doesn’t mean he supports HISA, which will ban the use of race-day Lasix in 2-year-old races and all stakes when it takes effect. States would be able to get exemptions to continue allowing for race-day Lasix in all other races while a three-year Lasix study is undertaken, though many in the industry believe the medication used to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage will eventually be banned in all races by HISA.

“I for one would like to get (the current proposed West Virginia rules) resolved,” Lowe said. “The biggest issue is doing away with Lasix. I think it’s a fatal mistake for the industry.”

In other business, the WVRC adopted a motion requiring racetracks to provide a progress report and a timeline on whey they plan to return to pre-COVID-19 operational levels. Lowe said he has fielded questions that for the most part were Charles Town-specific regarding air conditioning and food service in the grandstand.

“We need to get things back in gear,” he said. “We’ve got a product and we owe it to the state of West Virginia to get it back to what it was, or even better. What can we do to increase live handle at all the tracks? Let’s prove this is worth it. Let’s do some big things in racing.”