AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Racing Commission formalized its opposition Wednesday to the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, federal anti-doping legislation passed in 2020 which members say will hobble the already beleaguered parimutuel betting industry in Texas.
HISA, which goes into effect on July 1, would usurp a role the Texas Racing Commission traditionally has played: making sure horses on a racetrack are not doped. According to posted regulations, HISA could delegate animal testing to state racing authorities, but that would not eliminate a $371,377 fee HISA has assessed for Texas.
“This pivotal meeting will consider the response of Texas and the Texas Racing Commission to the federal HISA, which, by terms, seeks to disenfranchise Texas from its essential role in the health and safety of horses and jockeys,” Chair Robert Pate said. “An unintended consequence of HISA—at least in Texas—may be the elimination of all parimutuel wagering and simulcast wager for HISA-covered horses and covered horse racing under the Texas Racing Act.”
That’s because horseracing is tightly regulated in Texas. The state racing commission does no more—or less—than the law on the books. The actions of owners, trainers, jockeys and venues are all controlled under the Texas Racing Act. HISA covers anti-doping procedures, but it is silent when it comes to parimutuel betting, Pate said as he opened the meeting.
“Any race or meet subject to HISA regulation—without state staffing to adequately implement state law—will not be a race or meet that meets Texas racing statute, and the Commission cannot allow parimutuel wager or simulcast wagering in those circumstances.”
The commission then went into an hour-long executive session with staff from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. To date, the Texas Racing Commission has done three things: It signed off on a letter, sent to HISA, that refused to pay fees. The agency filed suggestions on HISA regulations that would create a more balanced playing field. And Texas has joined a legal case, in a Lubbock federal court, that has challenged the constitutionality of the law.
State racing officials met with the new leadership of HISA last December, Vice Chair Connie McNabb told her colleagues. All the racing states were present.
“My statement to them was that our charter and our laws have words like ‘will’ and ‘shall,’ not ‘should’ and ‘could,’ and our legislature doesn’t meet until 2023. The things you’re asking us to do, we do not have the authority to do,” McNabb said. “The answer I got from their top leader at the time was, ‘We are the feds, and we have (Federal Trade Commission) authority. So, whatever you say, doesn’t matter to us.’”
A new HISA CEO, Lisa Lazarus, was appointed in February. Prior to that, Lazarus led the equestrian practice at Morgan Sports Law, a boutique law firm devoted to sports arbitration.
Voters approved the Texas Racing Commission in 1987. As the horseracing industry has floundered, it came close to being scrapped during the recent Sunset review process, Pate told his commission colleagues. A majority of key staff members departed the agency, and Amy Cook was appointed executive director of the agency last November.
Cook, in her report to the commission, said resolving the HISA challenge was one of her top three challenges at the agency, as well as establishing public trust and finding a feasible fiscal structure. A new strategic plan for the agency is due June 1.