The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, despite its members expressing support for federal efforts to strengthen safety and oversight of thoroughbred racing, has voted against taking responsibility for new fees required under the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020.
Discussion at the commission’s monthly meeting Tuesday focused on the agency lacking authority to collect fees that would cover some $1.2 million that the state is expected to remit this year to assist in costs of the newly created HISA Authority. The result is the state’s three thoroughbred tracks will be expected to raise the funds, although they have their own concerns about that.
Several other states’ racing commissions have also voted against the new fee obligations, while the California Horse Racing Board last week became the first to agree to handle the fees.
Multiple Pennsylvania commission members said Tuesday that despite their support of HISA’s goals, the new federal authority had provided inadequate information thus far on its budgeting process and other operations.
“It is our hope we get further guidance from the authority for both the commission’s benefit and for the industry’s benefit,” said Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, the commission’s chairman. “The sooner that comes, the better.”
Track officials in a pickle
The regulatory agency’s decision evidently leaves officials in a quandary at the Parx, Penn National, and Presque Isle Downs tracks, in that they will be expected to cover HISA costs on top of many other new provisions of the law affecting thoroughbred operations.
Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National Gaming, told commissioners that the multi-state company already is dealing with HISA representatives on numerous issues, and due to the commission’s action, it will also have to determine how to raise about $250,000 as its share of HISA assessments in Pennsylvania.
McErlean added that Penn National has concerns about “unrealistic expectations and requirements” under the new regulations that pertain to safety, drugs, and other aspects of racing, even if “conceptually we are for everything HISA is trying to accomplish. …We are very concerned about the impact HISA has from a financial point of view and from an operations point of view.”
Tuesday’s discussion on the impact of HISA clearly won’t be the last by Pennsylvania racing officials as they prepare for the full impact of the federal law that takes effect July 1, with additional requirements to come in 2023.