Congressmen Seek National Drug, Safety Standards for Horse Racing, While Some Worry Bettors May Foot Bill

Posted on: April 15, 2019, 08:24h. 

Last updated on: April 16, 2019, 02:48h.

Two Congressmen have introduced legislation that would bring uniformity to horse racing regulations across the United States. However, at least one group worries bettors may end up bearing the brunt for the sport’s reforms.

A pair of Congressmen are leading the charge to establish national standards for drug testing and safety in horse racing. U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko and Andy Barr filed the Horseracing Integrity Act in March. (Image: Benoit)

The Horseracing Integrity Act is the brainchild of U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko (D-New York) and Andy Barr (R-Kentucky), both of whom serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus. The lawmakers also offered the bill during the last Congressional session.

The bill seeks to nationalize racing standards by creating an organization to establish and monitor an anti-doping program. The bill also bans all medications for horses within 24 hours of a race and mandates information disclosures to breeding stock buyers and bettors.

Matt Sonneborn, Tonko’s communications director, told that the lawmakers were working to resubmit the bill when Santa Anita officials suspended racing at the California track to determine the cause of more than 20 deaths.

While Santa Anita officials inspected the track, they also put forward a recommendation to revamp medication protocols as well. The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, supports Congressional action.

“That coincidence reinforces the urgent need for a uniform, nationwide medication program in the horseracing industry,” Sonneborn said.

Possible Takeout Increase Concerns Group

While most of the language remains the same from the 2017 bill, one change did raise the concern of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation.

The group’s review of the bills found that a provision banning state racing commissions from increasing the takeout was no longer part of the 2019 version of the Horseracing Integrity Act. That prompted concerns from the group that states may fund their share of any funding requirements by only increasing the takeout from wager pool. That move would then reduce the amount of money bettors would win.

Pat Cummings, the foundation’s executive director, told that racing already features one of the highest takeout rates among all forms of legal betting. He fears additional hikes may drive some fans away from the sport.

“Gamblers so rarely have a seat at the table,” Cummings said. “They’re the customers. They’re the main driving force that keeps the prize money going. But they’re not represented in these discussions.”

Both Sonneborn and Barr told that they made change after getting feedback from stakeholders on the previous bill. They both said the funding for any initiatives stemming from the bill should come from all stakeholders. That includes owners, horsemen, and bettors.

The revision in the 2019 bill gives the 38 state racing commissions more flexibility to make that happen, they said.

Barr added that the bettors he engaged support the bill because it makes handicapping races easier.

Horseplayers want – as much as anything else – they want to know that when they bet on a horse at Santa Anita, when that horse starts in the Kentucky Derby and then later moves to Maryland and later moves to New York for the Belmont, that in all four jurisdictions, that horse is running under the same set of rules, so their handicapping is reliable,” Barr told

Broad Support

It’s been a month since filing the legislators filed the bill. While no hearing has been set for it, the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support with 50 co-sponsors.

Barr said he’s excited about the number of stakeholder groups who have come together to build consensus. Already, a number of organizations have come out in support of H.R. 1754, including The Jockey Club and The Humane Society of the United States.

That gives Barr hope that the Horseracing Integrity Act will move forward. He added that a Senate version is also in the works.

“That’s why I see as much momentum as I ever have,” Barr said.