June 2015 | Pitts, Udall Invoke Horseracing’s Nuclear Option
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Pitts, Udall Invoke Horseracing’s Nuclear Option

June 2015

On May 1, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) introduced legislation to eliminate most wagering on horseracing by repealing the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, the federal legislation under which pari-mutuel racing has operated and grown over the last four decades. The act enabled “off-track” and online wagering which today accounts for about 90 percent of the $11 billion wagered on horseracing in the 38 states that permit it.

Horseracing is the only sport specially permitted by federal law to offer online gambling and interstate betting, yet widespread corruption has stained the industry, the Members said in a press release.

Udall and Pitts have previously introduced legislation to clean up the sport.  On the same date in 2013, following hearings held in Kennett Square, PA, the pair introduced The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which would have enabled the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to enforce anti-doping standards in races with simulcast wagering. The bill died in committee. Prior to that the lawmakers introduced similar legislation tasking the Federal Trade Commission to improve the sport that also went nowhere.

The current bills are named after racehorses who were given drugs to race and were euthanized on the track. Udall named the Senate bill after Teller All Gone, a two-year-old Quarter horse who fell after the wire at a race in New Mexico. Pitts named the House bill after Coronado Heights, a four-year-old Thoroughbred who died racing after receiving a diagnosis of early degenerative joint disease.

An analysis of the legislation by the American Horse Council concluded, “While there are references to ‘performance-enhancing drugs,’ lack of uniformity, breakdowns, and illegal drugs, in the press release accompanying the bill and in the bill’s findings, in essence the legislation simply repeals the IHA.  The effect of the bill would be to return racing to the way it operated in the 1950s and 1960s.”

In the press release, the two Members of Congress noted that their bill would “eliminate most wagering on horseracing, encouraging the sport to end doping and crack down on cheaters.”  They argued that the goals of the IHA, which are “to regulate interstate commerce with respect to pari-mutuel wagering on horses in order to further the horseracing industry,” had not been met.  “It’s time to crack down on corruption by ending horseracing’s sweetheart gambling privileges [under the IHA].  We must stop the abuse and restore integrity to this once-dignified sport.”

The release notes that Udall and Pitts had introduced legislation in prior Congresses to “clean up the sport.  This new approach takes their bipartisan push to the next level by repealing the Interstate Horseracing Act.”  The legislation also repeals racing’s exemption from the prohibitions of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which regulates interstate wagering on the Internet.

“Horseracing is the Sport of Kings. Unfortunately, however, it’s plagued by too many unscrupulous trainers, owners, veterinarians and other race track officials who race sickened or injured horses, pumping them full of painkillers or other performance enhancing drugs in order to try to win at all costs,” Pitts said in the press release. “Despite years of promises of reform, horseracing groups have been unable to come together to develop uniform rules that protect both horses and the integrity of the sport. This legislation will end a federal exception for gambling on horseracing. Since 2008, over 7,000 race horses have died on America’s racetracks. It’s past time to put measures in place that protect racehorses from abuse at the track.”