Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act Passes as Part of COVID-19 Package

Thoroughbred Daily News — Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 8:50 am — Included in a year-end government funding bill that included a $900-billion COVID-19 relief package, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was passed by the House of Representatives and Congress Monday night. The bill is expected to be signed into law shortly by President Donald J. Trump, which would mean that the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, once considered a longshot to pass, will become a reality.

The passage of the bill was a a bipartisan effort led by Congressmen Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

“Kentucky’s cherished horseracing traditions deserve to be protected. I’m proud the Senate agreed to my legislation to preserve our signature racing industry and the 24,000 workers who support it,” McConnell said in a statement. “With the leadership of Congressman Andy Barr and the partnership of sport leaders, horse advocates, and fans, we’re one step closer to promoting fairness and safety across Thoroughbred racing. As Majority Leader, I made this Kentucky-focused legislation a top priority in the Senate. I look forward to this major advancement for our beloved sport becoming law.”

“It’s a great day,” Tonko said. “It’s going to save a sport, provide additional jobs and will be so respectful of the equine athletes, the jockeys and others who are involved. It begins and ends there. I am thrilled about it.”

The push to have the Act passed was led by The Jockey Club and was joined by several major racetracks and organizations. The list includes the Breeders’ Cup, the NTRA, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the New York Racing Association, Del Mar, The Stronach Group and the Water Hay Oats Alliance.

“I’d like to thank Senate Majority Leader McConnell for diligently focusing on getting this much-needed bill included in the must-pass Omnibus Appropriations Bill,” said Stuart S. Janney, III, Chairman of The Jockey Club. “Leader McConnell has been a powerful force when it comes to promoting and supporting the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky and throughout the nation. With the passage of this bill, we restore confidence with our fans that the competition is clean, the game is fair and the horse and rider are protected.”

The bill calls for a phase-in period and will not take effect until July 1, 2022 at which time the “Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority” will be in place and responsible for “developing and implementing a horseracing anti-doping, end-medication program and a racetrack safety program for covered horses…”

The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act means sweeping changes for a sport that has been rocked by recent doping scandals and has come under fire from animal rights activists and media outlets over equine fatalities on the racetrack. Once the Act goes into effect, drug testing and the policing of the sport will be turned over from the individual state racing commissions to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). USADA has an impressive track record and it is widely believed that it will be more effective in catching and punishing cheaters than the current system. All medication and safety rules will be standardized nationwide.

“People will come to, hopefully, trust [the sport] again and have confidence in it,” said Arthur Hancock, who, along with his wife Staci, has been a leading voice for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. “We’re going to clean out the drugs and thugs.”

“This is a monumental step forward that will help secure the future of Thoroughbred racing in the United States,” said Dave O’Rourke, President & CEO of the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA). “For the first time, the sport will have a unified set of national safety and integrity standards to replace an outdated system that relied on patchwork regulation. The HISA will achieve the type of reforms long supported and advanced by NYRA, including a national approach to medication control and the strongest anti-doping authority the sport has ever seen.”

The bill was originally introduced six years ago by Tonko and Barr, but seemed to be going nowhere in Congress. That all changed when McConnell announced his support in an Aug. 31 press conference held at Keeneland. Shortly thereafter, a stand-alone bill was passed in the House, but had not come up in the Senate until Monday’s vote.

The language covering the Act takes up 64 pages in the omnibus bill, but leaves some questions unanswered. In particular, where the funding will come from to pay for USADA and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority remains somewhat unclear. The bill states that initial funding to establish the Authority and underwrite its operations shall be provided through loans obtained by the Authority. The funding will eventually have to come from the states, but it is not known how they will raise the money.

The “Authority” will be governed by a nine-member Board which must be put in place prior to July 1, 2022.


One Response to “Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act Passes as Part of COVID-19 Package”

  1. It is horse racing’s stimulus check.

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