Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act Pits States Vs Federal Rights In Industry

Written By Darren Cooper on July 6, 2022 - Last Updated on July 10, 2022
Protests over the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act

Texas horse racing tracks are now by Texas and for Texans only.

HISA, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, became the law of the land on July 1 and has made an impact on the US gambling and US online gambling industry.

Still, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and West Virginia are each protesting the statute saying it’s unconstitutional and infringing on a state’s rights to govern activities within its own borders.

To that end, Lone Star Park outside of Dallas has prohibited any simulcast signal from its races from getting across state borders, and advanced wagering companies can’t take betting on Texas races. This has already caused a significant drop in the handle at the park.

Amy Cook, the Texas Racing Commission executive director, called the stand “Texans supporting Texans.”

HISA was the federal response to a loosely organized set of horse racing rules that varied from state to state and were dangerous for the athletes. Did the rules go too far? Or is this just grandstanding by administrators who don’t want to be told what to do?

Why this horse racing act was wanted

The horse racing industry was reeling a few years ago from doping scandals, unexplained deaths at tracks in Santa Anita, and the 2021 Kentucky Derby where Medina Spirit won but was disqualified for using an illegal drug.

Federal lawmakers, including Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who had the support of Churchill Downs, pushed through legislation creating HISA.

The aim was for a standard group of regulations to be put in place at every track and for every thoroughbred across America. HISA only governs thoroughbreds, not harness racing or quarter horses.

In a paper printed in the 2021 edition of the NY State Bar Association’s Sports Law Journal, Albany Law School Government Lawyer Bennet Liebman wrote,

“The belief was that the existing regulatory setup featuring individual state racing commissions, each with differing rules, with limited State allocated budgets, with occasionally indolent levels of dedication to enforcing existing drug rules and employing drug testing facilities of varying levels of sophistication was not up to the enormous task of promoting safety and integrity in racing.”

Too many whips? Horseracing Integrity Act means changes

HISA promised to study and come up with a compromise on the use of race-day Lasix. This common anti-bleeding medication prevents respiratory bleeding in horses but was only usable in some states and felt dangerous for the animal.

HISA wanted to impose limits on the use of a riding crop, or whip, allowing jockeys only six overhand strikes but unlimited underhand. It also sought the use of standard horseshoes, expanded veterinary oversight, and imposed surface maintenance guidelines and testing requirements for the four-legged athletes.

All racing participants would have to register with HISA by July 1 and then be considered “covered” members, subject to HISA doctrine and discipline.

It was a two-pronged approach under HISA, the first was the Racetrack Safety Program, and the second was creating the Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program (ADMC), which would start in January.

The goal of the ADMC was to create centralized testing and results management processes and apply standard penalties for violations.

Immediate concerns for their federal lawsuits

While most states, including Kentucky, applauded the new HISA protocols, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Louisiana bucked.

Texas and the TRC challenged HISA’s constitutionality, claiming a violation of non-delegation doctrine (meaning it didn’t get to vote on the rules specifically) and due process (they wanted more time to implement the changes).

A judge dismissed the initial complaints, but decisions have been appealed.

Louisiana and West Virginia filed new federal lawsuits last week trying to block HISA implementation, saying it violated the 4th Amendment (unreasonable search and seizures), 7th Amendment (right to a jury trial), and 10th Amendment (states’ rights).

Specifically referring to Louisiana, the suit states that,

“It is unclear how HISA will collect monies from racetracks and covered persons because Louisiana law makes clear that the Louisiana State Racing Commission must ensure pari-mutuel wagering revenue is distributed in a particular manner-namely, that ‘fifty percent of [specific proceeds] shall be distributed by such track licensee as purses’ and the remaining fifty percent ‘shall be distributed by such track licensee as purses.”

In other words, HISA doesn’t have the right to govern interstate commerce, meaning if you are in Colorado, win a bet on a horse race in Louisiana and get paid for it.

Who’s in charge here?

There was a fear across the country that horses, jockeys, and trainers that didn’t register under HISA would have to scratch horses starting July 1, but that was not the case.

The California Horse Racing Board told thoroughbreddailynews.com that the final decision on a scratch was up to each track’s stewards and that it would allow horses to run if proof could be provided that a good faith effort was made to register.

California was the first state to opt into the HISA standards.

Still, HISA appears to have a strange hierarchy of federal agencies to report to. Uncle Sam just wasn’t going to start a “National Horse Racing Commission” to oversee everything. So, HISA is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.

It does seem like a strange mix.

“The FTC has much bigger business to pursue than just racing,” wrote Liebman.

“It enforces many more laws of greater consequence to the American economy than horse racing regulation. It has no animal welfare expertise, unlike the United States Department of Agriculture.”

Lone Star Park had a $1.7 million handle for 10 races on Saturday, June 25. The following Saturday, with the races blacked out, it reported a handle of $215,107 for eight races.

The horse racing industry remains fractured and locked in a battle over federal rights and state rights. It’s a story America knows all too well at the moment.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Written by
Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper is a staff writer for PlayUSA. He’s been a sports writer in the Northeast since 1998 and developed a keen interest in covering the gaming, casino and sports betting industry and has written for multiple additional Play state sites. He always bets responsibly although his grandfather did have a secret system for betting on the ponies at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

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