Sunday, July 20, 2008

Opinion: Paulick Report's Whitfield Column

Congressman Ed Whitfield selected the paulickreport blog to report his conclusions regarding the state of the horse racing industry in America in an op-ed piece titled “Time to Get Horseracing Back on Track.”

“… an overwhelming consensus was reached on four key issues plaguing the Sport of Kings.

The first is that far too often, horses are given performance enhancing drugs and pain killers to ensure they run as fast as possible, while masking pain that may have provided a warning to avert a catastrophic injury for the horse and the jockey. The second is a lack of uniformity of applicable drug rules and data collection statistics regarding track accidents and safety issues among the 38 separate state racing jurisdictions. The third is the excess number of drug labs in the U.S. - over 18 today - and their inadequate funding to ensure quality and accurate testing. The fourth is the absence of any one entity with the authority or power to enforce uniformity in a myriad of regulations across state lines.”

Just as in the hearings, the work of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection focused on horses and ignored customers.

“… when the American people read news stories about the rampant use of drugs administered to the horses and see it described as "chemical warfare;" when they realize that over 5,000 horses have died from injuries on racetracks since 2003; when they see the life threatening injuries suffered by jockeys riding the horses; and when they discover the number of horses that are sent to slaughter every year after falling into the lowest claiming races, horseracing becomes less appealing. In fact, a recent poll taken by a newspaper in Seattle found that 38 percent of those polled wanted to ban horseracing.

I do not want to see that happen and do not believe it will.”

And then he backed away from a comprehensive solution.

“ I do, however, strongly believe that Congress can help the industry solve its problems and do so without creating an expensive new federal agency.”

“Congress can help because it can adopt minimum standards or guidelines for excellence, control and uniformity among the 38 racing jurisdictions. Just as important, Congress can enforce the minimum standards through the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.”

“Today, simulcasting provides 85 percent of the revenue for horseracing, but the industry has not been able to solve the serious issues it faces. It is time for action. I propose that Congress set minimum standards in the 1978 Act and require state racing authorities to adopt those standards to continue receiving the benefits of simulcasting. The federal government working with industry leaders and groups can solve the problems and ensure a strong, safe and vibrant sport for future generations.”

Congress could have defined a central industry governing body representing all industry stakeholders (including players), and empowered a strong commissioner to effect unity and enforce uniformity across all racing venues, but instead it abdicated its responsibility to the consumers it was supposed to protect.

So, once again, horseplayers are left to their own devices to bring about needed industry reforms that will level the playing field to that of pre-simulcasting days. On-track attendance will never regain its previous levels, but the number of people regularly betting on races can exceed those of that bygone era through in-home, on-line wagering and viewing.

But fewer of today’s savvier, better-educated youth are willing to play this game which is now so hard to beat and so limited as to what can be wagered on and viewed live. They may find the Pick Six attractive in concept, but not in implementation as bigger bankrolls buy jackpots that elude all but the most fortunate smaller player. Today’s largest players receive rebates based on their tremendous volume; placing the smaller player at an even greater competitive disadvantage.

The only way to force other industry stake holders to take a smaller share of the pie in order to increase their net is to stop serving pie until they do. It’s not just a matter of betting less, but of being willing to go betless until it’s worth wagering again.

Why do we need to take a stand, you say? Because if we don’t, the game we know can be so challenging, so rewarding, and so exciting will become even less beatable and less enjoyable than it was before too many pieces of the pie were spoken for.

This opinion was submitted by a California member of HANA.

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