RCI: OPENING THE DOOR TO CONGRESS

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am
By Ray Paulick

There was a table-pounding moment Tuesday afternoon at the annual convention of the Association of Racing Commissioners International when Ed Martin, president of the group seen widely as a do-nothing organization, admonished its members to do something.


I felt, for the first time in over 20 years of reporting on the RCI, that it actually might have a pulse. I flashed back to the cherubic Tony Chamblin, whose primary job as longtime head of the RCI was trying to keep his own job. When he could no longer win that battle, he left behind a legacy of a civil war among regulators, one that resulted in two national organizations, RCI and the splinter group North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association. Racing industry veteran Lonny Powell replaced Chamblin in 2001, and in his tenure helped put Humpty Dumpty back together. Martin finished the job in 2005, when he succeeded Powell as president of RCI, and the merger of the two organizations was completed in 2006.


So, a cynic might say, we once again have just one useless national organization of regulators with no real authority, instead of two.


Martin is hoping to change that image of the RCI, but it was clear in his rising voice and pointed words that his frustrations are growing. Betting scandals and pari-mutuel pool tampering continues, Martin said, but regulators do nothing. The industry spends $35 million on drug testing to little avail, he said, but virtually nothing on wagering security, the economic foundation of the business. Regulators  at the RCI convention hear proposals for how wagering security can be improved and then go home and do nothing. Tracks, he said, say they want to do their own thing but end up doing nothing.


Professional horseplayer Mike Maloney outlined ongoing problems with past-post betting and pool tampering and said regulators exacerbate the problems and suspicions about the integrity of wagering by shielding the incidents from the public. There must be transparency before you can insure integrity, Maloney said.


I had the opportunity to address the regulators at the RCI convention and tried to impress upon them that horseplayers are fed up like I've never seen before. I asked readers of the Paulick Report to tell me what they think should be the top priorities of state racing commissioners, and owners, breeders, trainers and horseplayers responded with legitimate and well-reasoned concerns. Foremost among them were calls for tougher enforcement of medication violations and uniform rules from one state to another, something that might not have been important 25 years ago when racing was a localized sport. Today, with interstate simulcasting accounting for nearly 90% of pari-mutuel handle, it is imperative that the rules are the same across the board: on medication, drug testing, penalties, wagering, and licensing.


There is cheating going on, and people in this industry know it, whether it's medication violations by trainers and veterinarians who know how to game the system (and only get a slap on the wrist when they're caught) or gamblers using off-shore account-wagering businesses that are not adequately regulated.


Your comments (all of which are being made available to RCI members) helped me convey to regulators how critically important it is for them to take serious action. If they don't, I suggested, the federal government will.


That point was driven home earlier in the day by Keeneland president and CEO Nick Nicholson, who is also chairman of the American Horse Council and as a former U.S. Senate aide knows how Washington can work. “This particular Congress is not concerned where the problem is but they are determined that they will be part of the solution,” Nicholson said. “This Congress is going to be activist.”


Nicholson brought the Council of State Governments into play last year in hopes of creating an alternative to federal intervention, using interstate compacts, something that is common to other industries. RCI's president, Ed Martin, also sees interstate compacts as a realistic solution to the challenge of having 38 state regulatory boards walking in lock-step with one another. But it's going to be up to the individual state racing commissions to make a compact work.


John Mountjoy, director of policy and research for the Council of State Governments, explained to RCI members how interstate compacts work and outlined their various benefits. Among other things, Mountjoy said, interstate compacts offer a federal solution “without Washington.” Uniform rules, operations and training can be achieved through an interstate compact, he said, while allowing flexibility and state sovereignty.


Interstate compacts can't happen overnight, he added, indicating it could take several years to have one fully operational.


This much we know. There is a crisis of confidence in this industry among the biggest stakeholders–the horseplayers who fund the economic engine with billions of dollars of bets each year. But those stakeholders wagered fewer dollars on U.S. racing in 2008 than in any year since 1998, and this year's handle promises to be even lower.


Racing commissioners from different states have shown over time they are incapable of taking the necessary steps to address the fundamental problems. There may be a pulse at the RCI that I didn't sense 10 years ago, and there are good people involved at RCI and many state racing commissions. However, I'm afraid that when most of the commissioners and their paid staff return home from the RCI 2009 convention, it will be business as usual and nothing significantly will change.


That will open the door to Congress and let the federal government come up with its own solution.

Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report

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  • Al

    Congressman Whitfield is refining a draft proposal as we speak. Racing shouldn’t be afraid of getting better, as all we have done on our own is get worse.

  • Dray33

    30 years later, after all the corruption, abuse and cheating… we are starting to see signs of a pulse?

    Getting 38 jurisdictions to “do the right thing” NOW is as likely as getting the abusers to pay back all the legitimate horse players that have lost billions over the past 30 years. Ain’t happenin’. Are we that delusional to believe that if left to their own devices, the states would fall in line? Why would we believe THAT? Time and time and time again, that has never been the case. Federal oversight is the only hope, and a slim one at that.

  • Rudy Galindo

    Honest horse owners are fed up. The trainers and owners who are willing to take the chances to win are ruining the sport. Without enough horses, the gamblers won’t have the full fiends to bet on and on and on it goes. Stop the cheating, ban theses guys for life. Don’t allow a person with a bad test and a stay to be licensed in another state until the first state has ruled on the issue. Quit condoning, rewarding and enableing these people. Our industry will not survive if nothing is done and done soon.

  • pa guy

    something has to be done and, as the current regulatory structure has shown itself incapable of policing itself in a manner which meets the scrutiny of the betting public and other stakeholders, then there is nothing left but for a federal takeover. i never thought i would say this, but federal control could surely be no worse than what we have now.

    there has to be immediate action (not another committee, alliance, compact etc please!) on so many critical issues, including race-day medication, on testing and uniform penalties, on soundness in young horses, on whipping, on race warm-ups etc. that have been neglected for so long to the point where it is difficult to find anyone who believes in the integrity of racing. does the best horse win and are we are breeding animals sound enough to pass on their genes on to a new and noble generation of thoroughbreds?

    we have to start by getting chemicals out of the sport altogether before we have a polo pony-type disaster. at the moment it seems to be happening one horse at a time, but at some point enough has to be enough! the rci and its various commissions have proved absolutely and totally inept at ensuring integrity uniformly across 38 platforms. the neglect and abuse of the animal has bordcered on criminal and it has to stop. the day has to come when no horse, for example, with a slab fracture of the knee or a similar potentially catastrophic injury is allowed to race anywhere in the us and canada. that is happening now with the full knowledge of trainers, owners and vets is enough to justify a federal takeover in my book. the time for talking is over.

  • California Breeder

    I agree with you completely Pa Guy. I never thought we need the federal government to police our industry, but it has gotten to the point that we cannot do it ourselves. I read about Alec Waldrop and the NTRA, but when I saw in Paulicks blog that Waldrop said the racing boards are “the teeth” needed, I laughed so hard my dentures almost fell out.

  • Noelle

    Agree emphatically with all the above comments.

    I keep thinking of Arthur Hancock’s testimony at last summer’s congressional hearing. 30+ years now and still the runaway train doesn’t have an engineer.

  • Ratherrapid

    For reasons I’m unable to explain, I’m having trouble loosing sleep over Mike Maloney and “paramutual pool tampering” and “betting scandals”. So, as Paulick implies, we must DO SOMETHING. Anything, I’m supposing, as long as what is done will stop pool tampering and hopefully shut Mike Maloney, the only person in the universe concerned over his 1 or 2 proven incidents of past post odds changing, for ever.

    Personally, if there are problems in horse racing these are minor. As usual, we have responses from those with the “lasix, whip, slaughter, too many horses too many races, agendas, and a few loud mouth bettors up in arms, who will be on to other events in the forseeable future, as they seem unable to win bets and so are concerned about the “pools”.

    Can we please concentrate on what’s important:

    1. how to avoid another 8 Belles (Barbaro, Pine Island, GW, War Pass, Rags to Riches fracturing the Belmont, Old Fashioned, etc. etc.
    2. how to market the sport as I notice the first Twin Spires add on SI front page. Finally.
    3. How to train trainers so they know how to train horses and stop the highly justified grumbling by thousands of “former” owners.

  • Bob Hope

    has anyone looked at leadership in the federal government lately? in the main it is incompetent and in disarray. they would love to have another place to dump retired Franks, Dodds and Shumers for high pay and nothing to do
    we have inexperience trying to regulate experience
    horseracing is a historic sport with strict rules that need to be studied and respected
    we accept any inch of relative experience in any aspect of the business/sport without qualifying its reality
    leadership must be drawn from within the sport/industry and utilized
    rules and applications without any rational or science is completely detrimental to our history and operations
    wagering should be an adjunct to the sport, not the dictating factor to our operations
    horseracing in America has lost its purpose and is misunderstood by most of its current operators and regulators
    America has many fine sports that are flourishing and acceptable to the public. Horseracing has chosen lotteries and gaming
    as its model rather than the specific principals and historic values passed on to us and that are in play in other civilize communities

  • Rather Rapid, you answered your own question. How to avoid another 8 belles et al? “lasix, whip, slaughter, too many horses too many races,…”

    But since you think none of these things is part of the problem, how would YOU prevent another 8 Belles? You’ve already said that the answer ISN’T limiting medication, more selective breeding and less racing, so OK, what IS the answer? I’m dying to know.

  • Joe

    Racing has been run by a fraternity of buffoons and ostriches who shall create no waves even as racing crashes around them.

    Instead of making Alex Waldrop into a whipping boy, we should blame racing “leaders” who control him. They have watched cheaters and abusers taking over racing and have stayed busy hiding ugly stuff and controlling bad PR instead of cleaning up the poison. That has attracted the wrong type of owners and assorted enablers to spew delinquent and abusive racing. What is needed is no drugs on race day and very limited, fully disclosed amounts to train horses up to a race. This will clean-up and force reforms of the “claiming game” and pre-race exam.

    Instead of racinos offering high purses to races full of spent and broken bottom claimers year around –sometimes 4 or 5 times higher than claiming prices– purses should match claiming prices. This would prevent abuse, cut racing, boost quality and permit more horses to be retired while they are still sound enough to have second careers. These funds should be sent to a central racing authority to help cover adequate surveillance, security, investigations, drug testing, legal matters and penalties.

    State commissions are underfunded, impotent, and conflicted with those they should police. As Travis Tygart said to Congress: “A sport cannot police itself”. Pre-race exams should be the ultimate safety net for horses against abusive owners, trainers and vets but they are a terrible joke when performed at all. Many infirm horses continue to train and race while racing insiders see, hear and know nothing. Many things done to race horses and bettors should become criminal. Racing needs to be cut in 1/2 to prevent abuse and boost quality.

    I applaud Ed Martin and Ray Paulick. I am glad that you had your tea (manure) party yesterday! We need to have enough manure parties to bring forth quality leadership and create a central racing authority without government “help”.

  • Margrethe

    How about recognition of track vets like Dr. Jill Baily, who had the guts to scratch The Pamplemousse. His connections had very intention of running the horse in the S.A. Derby… pulling up on the lead can be deadly.
    The RCI has spent 75 years accomplishing what?
    No national licensing of owners, trainers, and help (that should have been easy), no uniform medication or penalties rules passed.
    What about shock waving (that should be a short discussion)? Will Ky. allow Square Eddie to run after a fracture of the cannon bone on February 2, 2009?
    Why is only PA. the only jurisdiction which has regulated the injection of joints?
    What about when the first hyperbaric chamber operated by a non-veterinarian blows up?
    How about claimed horses that don’t finish return to original owner? And suspend the connections the second time it happens. We’ve all seen that over & over complete with high fives!
    Any suspended trainers takes down his/her plaques and horses disperse to barns other than assistants.
    The RCI has done nothing substantial. Get busy someone!

  • Joe

    Well said!

    Heroes of the Month:

    Jill Bailey, DVM for scratching The Pamplemouse although her scratch was later white-washed for PR purpose.

    Michelle Nevin for refusing to exercise Stardom Bound, forcing IEAH to stop training the champion filly toward the KY Oaks, giving her a well-deserved “rest”. Translation: to recover from whatever scared the hell out of Ms. Nevin.

    Ed Martin: for his “rising voice and pointed words”.

    Ray, called “Mr. Controversial” who should be called Mr. Transparency.

  • Ratherrapid

    Ms. Rarick–i’ve posted my opinions numerous times. Simple logical stuff–

    1. racing/training standards for major televised races that would bar the likes of GW, Casino Drive, Square Eddie, General Quarters who gets zero breezes the 2 weeks pre derby, scratch the War Passes, 8 Belles, Barbaros, Friesan Fires, who have glaringly obvious deficiencies in their preparation.
    2. scientific pre-race diagnostics and record keeping.
    3. Mandatory appropriate warm ups

    long term, research. Where is the Grayson Jockey club et. al. I’m all for their worm studies, but where is the basic equine fracture resistance and exercise physiology research?

  • Interstate compacts are an approach, but I agree that they are probably a case of self-delusion. Everytime the politcal winds in one state or the other shift, a new interpretation would be put forth. Exactly what has occured over the issues of slots, casino’s, etc. As soon as the fiscal toilet flushing began all existing compacts went out the window. Politicians get elected locally on local issues. Federal regulation would not only negate that issue, but give state governments (politicians) a way out.
    What I really see though is way too many issues being examined as a whole. It’s like Jonah being swallowed by the whale. Once he got swallowed, he didn’t know where he was because he’d never been inside a whale before. The industry has problems that are both mechanical and what best can described as stuff out there in the ozone– probably more relevent in a 12-step program than something you could get on a spread sheet. Start with the basics and work down. Establish uniform, federal rules of racing. Sure they already exist, but nobody follows them. Okay, put them into Federal Statute — or not. The NFL probably has a practical template we could borrow. Have one agency — period. This agency only handles the structure and the rules. Not purses, simulcasting contracts, slots, cow tipping, etc. — this is the game, this is how it is played. The people that rule this game have no connection to this game. They are referees. They are also floaters — i.e., they don’t rule in their home state. I believe the NBA has a similar policy. They are also well paid and are the final authority. They can have striped shirts if they want. They have the authority to overule a state commissioner or for that matter replace that body as an officiating force. The key here would be an overall simplification of the basic rules — clear boundaries that completely exclude local issues. If you can do this for a footbal game, you can certainly do it for a horse race. And you should be able to get 38 states to agree on what a horse race constitutes. This body would also enforce a totally redefined medication policy and I’m inclined toward negative meds even though the realities of a competitive environment dictate otherwise. The problem here is that one door opens all doors. That’s why ‘hay, oats and water’ was the only workable policy in the past.
    So. Here’s the first problem solved. We’ll all get together on the front lawn with President Obama and sign the codicile.
    All I’m saying is tackle one element at a time. Figure out what you are by what you’re not. Then try to connect the dots.

  • Bob Hope

    when is the last time that you saw a rule book ? the rules have been in existence for hundreds of years, however, the regulatory bodies that strip off more than 150 million a year from handle say that they can’t afford to print them. We don’t need more rules, we just have to recognize and abide by the ones we have. Unlike football, baseball, hockey or volleyball, the inexperienced are responsible for regulating the experienced. It won’t work !

  • D. Masters

    I say roll over the toads in the road with Federal legislation that mandates a central governing body with enforcement powers financed by fines, purses and gambling gross intake as a percentage. Oh, and the industry can’t pick their trolls to be in the cgb (ooh…that’s an acronym for captive gun bolt too-how prophetic)…they have to be elected, not appointed and must include all the players with some voice for the horses, fans. We know the vets, owners, trainers have a voice…how ’bout the jocks, fans, horses, backstretch employees and whom ever I left out. Mow ’em down with mandatory centralized authority. And we’d better get a handle (pun intended) on these off-shore betting enterprises. What a mess!

  • Ratherrapid

    do we also ajuell, in addition to establishing priorites, need possibly to take a breath and analyze the need and benefit of national organization or federal regulation. Pro football, baseball, BB, are team sports. Their organization involves control by a few deep pockets who in final analysis are the sole beneficiaries of federalization. In contrast the strength of horse racing has been its democratic nature in that where we are now relatively speaking almost anyone can participate. This might be the model to emulate and perfect. I personally think most of us need to be very careful about federal control–who is pushing that agenda and why. The other question would be what does federal control really accomplish as opposed to e.g. a federal organization such as an empowered NTRA that would formulate, suggest and be intelligently proactive.

  • Cavonnier

    If bettors lose confidence in the pools, they’ll take their money elsewhere. And it looks like it’s already happening. Track revenues will go down and purses will be cut. With purses down, fewer horsemen will be able to stay in the game. Lower demand for horses mean lower prices for horses. Breeders who rely on sales will see their revenues decline. That will decrease the demand for stallion seasons and stud farms will take a hit…

    Nope, protecting the integrity of pari-mutuel pools isn’t important at all.

  • Ratherrapid

    Is there a difference between integrity and an occasional computer error?

  • Cavonnier

    Occasional errors like past posting create tremendous integrity issues. Those who can bet after the race starts have a huge advantage over the rest of us. It’s disappointing how little we’ve progressed since the 2002 Breeders’ Cup scandal.

  • Ed Martin

    Those who advocate a federal takeover do not understand that an additional layer of government will be created and will need to be paid for, perhaps by increasing the take out. Some state regulators are considering an interstate compact as a way to coordinate regulatory policy. Creating additional layers may only confuse the situation and make it worse rather than improve it. This has certainly been the case in other industries.

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