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Industry Insiders as "Regulators"?

This year’s repeated scandals and controversies have rocked horse racing and raised serious questions about the state boards that are supposed to be regulating the industry, but are too often controlled by insiders that care more about promoting horse racing than ensuring its safety and integrity.

Numerous horse deaths on the racetracks have drawn national attention and the Louisville Courier Journal revealed that Churchill Downs is one of the deadliest racetracks in America, surpassing all but one of the tracks with publicly available numbers.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting released a report exposing the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s practice of largely keeping vital details of the deaths secret, tipping the balance in favor of the industry rather than the public.

Only after the investigative report and resulting criticism did the Commission quietly reverse course and release the information.

The Louisville Courier Journal also reported on horse racing having the highest concussion rate of any sort, including football. Despite the industry being years behind any other sport and countries in addressing safety, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission hasn’t adopted any concussion regulations.

According to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission allowed the racetracks to fund and oversee the work of the Commission’s consultant who was to determine whether or not “historical horse racing” machines are legal.

Chris Hunt, general counsel for the Kentucky auditor’s office, called the Commission’s actions “out of the ordinary” and Michael Fagan, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Missouri, said that the relationship between the tracks and the state regulators appears problematic. Fagan, who specialized in gambling cases, noted that “The industry that is supposed to be regulated is buying its own regulator.”

And don’t forget that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is currently urging Kentucky’s courts to bypass the General Assembly to legalize slot-like “historical horse racing” machines by claiming that wagering doesn’t have to be “mutual” to be “pari-mutuel.”

All of these situations have one thing in common, a regulatory body that, by all appearances, is falling far short of its role as “a leader in both the safety and integrity of the sport as well as the welfare of the horse.”

This undeniable and alarming pattern of regulatory bodies excessively entangled with the industry they are charged with keeping in check—from the above scandals with the Kentucky Commission, the legislative probe of an industry-dominated Maryland Commission whose members won prizes they managed, and a New Mexico Commission sued for failure to follow its own rules, all the way to the California coverup of 2018 Triple Crown Winner Justify’s failed drug test and pervasive conflicts of interests—caused reporters at Kentucky’s two largest papers to call for change.

The Louisville Courier Journal’s Tim Sullivan proclaimed that “thoroughbred racing cannot be trusted to police itself. It cannot continue to be regulated by insiders inclined to protect the industry’s short-term interests over its long-term integrity.” While noting that the sport is “too clubby and secretive for its own good,” Sullivan went on to state: “Whenever industry insiders double as regulators, their ability to render arm’s-length decisions is inherently compromised.” I don’t think I could have said it any better, myself.

The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Linda Blackford echoed the need for additional oversight of racing.

The bottom line is that the horse racing industry NEEDS REAL GOVERNANCE. . . and it needs it NOW!

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