Racing Commission votes to defy federal law

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Racing Commission formalized its opposition Wednesday to the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act, federal anti-doping legislation passed in 2020 that members say will hamper the already beleaguered parimutuel betting industry in Texas.

what you need to know

  • Texas racing officials have agreed to oppose a new federal anti-doping law that they say will destroy the state’s pari-mutuel betting industry.
  • The feds want Texas to pay $371,377 to cover the cost of in-state racehorse trials
  • Racing officials say state law doesn’t allow Texas to pay the feds to do their job
  • Texas is also involved in a federal challenge to the law in a Lubbock court.

HISA, which goes into effect July 1, would usurp a role the Texas Racing Commission has traditionally played: making sure the horses on a race track are not doped. Under published regulations, HISA could delegate animal testing to state racing authorities, but that would not eliminate a $371,377 fee HISA has collected for Texas.

“This pivotal meeting will consider the response of Texas and the Texas Racing Commission to the federal HISA, which, by wording, seeks to deprive Texas of its essential role in the health and safety of horses and jockeys,” said Chairman Robert Pate. “An unintended consequence of HISA, at least in Texas, may be the elimination of all parimutuel and simulcast wagering for HISA-covered horses and horse racing covered by the Texas Racing Law.”

That’s because horse racing is strictly regulated in Texas. The state racing commission does no more, no less, than the law on the books. The actions of owners, trainers, jockeys and venues are all controlled by Texas Racing Law. HISA covers anti-doping procedures but is silent when it comes to pari-mutuel, Pate said as he opened the meeting.

“Any race or meet subject to HISA regulation, without state personnel to properly implement state law, will not be a race or meet that complies with Texas racing statute, and the Commission may not permit parimutuel wagering or simulcast wagering on those circumstances.”

The commission then went into an hour-long executive session with staff from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. To date, the Texas Racing Commission has done three things: Signed a letter, sent to HISA, which refused to pay the fees. The agency submitted suggestions on HISA regulations that would create a more level playing field. And Texas has joined a legal case, in federal court in Lubbock, that has challenged the law’s constitutionality.

State racing officials met with new HISA leadership last December, Vice President Connie McNabb told colleagues. All race states were present.

“My statement to them was that our statute and our laws have words like ‘will’ and ‘shall,’ not ‘should’ and ‘could,’ and our legislature will not meet until 2023. The things they ask us to do, we don’t have. the authority to do so,” McNabb said. “The response I got from their top leader at the time was: ‘We are the feds and we have authority (the Federal Trade Commission). So whatever you say, we don’t care.’”

In February, a new executive director of HISA, Lisa Lazarus, was appointed. Prior to that, Lazarus ran the equestrian practice at Morgan Sports Law, a boutique sports arbitration law firm.

Voters approved the Texas Racing Commission in 1987. As the horse racing industry faltered, it came close to being scrapped during the recent Sunset review process, Pate told commission colleagues. Most of the key staff members have left the agency, and Amy Cook was appointed executive director of the agency last November.

Cook, in his report to the commission, said resolving the HISA challenge was one of his top three challenges at the agency, along with establishing public trust and finding a workable tax structure. A new strategic plan for the agency is due June 1.