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Walden Won’t Give Odds on Horse Racing Bill Leaving the Gate

Barr urges colleagues not to mix betting and horse doping with amendments to his bill

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Greg Walden says he’s open to advancing a proposal to regulate parts of the horse racing industry. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Greg Walden says he’s open to advancing a proposal to regulate parts of the horse racing industry. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden said Friday he remained open to advancing a bipartisan proposal that would establish a national authority for regulating doping and medication in horse racing.

But after a raucous Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing that revealed an industry divided over how to address the issue, the Oregon Republican was unwilling to commit to moving a proposal from GOP Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky. Barr’s bill has 125 co-sponsors, 75 of them Democrats.

“I can’t predict that at this point,” Walden said about whether the bill would advance. “There was obviously differing viewpoints on the legislation, which we fully anticipated. Everybody knew that. I think it’s important to air these issues, and then we’ll decide where we go from there.”

The bill would create a Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, with a board that would include the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which handles drug testing for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The authority would share oversight with the Federal Trade Commission over the use of drugs and other medications for racehorses across the country, and would be financed by an assessment on state racing commissions based on the number of racehorses that start races in each state.

“The next step would be to push for a markup,” Barr said. He also urged his colleagues not to try to attach controversial provisions to the bill, such as those dealing with betting. “There’s no need to put those issues together if it would draw greater controversy,” Barr said.

Kitty Block, acting president of the Humane Society, said industry groups should “accept the fact that policing themselves is not working and that the integrity of the sport is at a crossroads.” She warned that horses and jockeys “continue to be at risk.”

Critics like Alan Foreman, CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said state racing regulators had done a good job of preventing the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Foreman castigated the bill as an unwarranted “federal takeover of a state-sanctioned and state-regulated industry.” He called the proposed fee on state racing commissions an unfunded federal mandate “without any accountability to the states.”

Stuart S. Janney III, chairman of the Jockey Club, a group that maintains a registry of racehorses across the country, backs the Barr bill. He said states have been slow to adopt components of a national uniform medication program, or NUMP, backed by a consortium of groups. Janney said the absence of uniformity in standards made it harder to negotiate the sale of racehorses to international buyers.

Janney said the Barr bill “would enhance the overall integrity of horse racing and ensure that level playing field for those who compete — owners, trainers and jockeys — and for those who wager on the outcome of our races.”

The NUMP plan calls for a mandatory use of a third-party veterinarian to handle the race-day administration of the diuretic drug furosemide, or Lasix, which is used to treat swelling and bleeding in the lungs; accreditation of drug-testing facilities; adoption of uniform guidelines for penalties; and a two-tier drug classification system.

Edward J. Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which represents state racing regulators, said the proposal would bring a “radical and unnecessary federalization” of regulation. “There are things the federal government can do to help. This proposal is not one of them,” Martin told the panel.

Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, argued against the legislation. He pointed out that Congress had not intervened to impose federal regulation on NASCAR, noting that race cars, like racehorses, cross state lines to get to racing events.

Given the close ties between horse racing and gambling, GOP Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas said he viewed the Barr bill as a potential vehicle for amendments dealing with other types of sports betting, including his draft proposal aimed at encouraging expansion of internet poker.

“I am looking at it,” Barton said, referring to his efforts to find a vehicle like the Barr bill for his proposal.

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