For those of you who like playing the futures, or simply enjoy speculating on odds, there is a website out there for you called Polymarket. They take compelling types of questions, (some less so, depending on your persuasion), and offer you the chance to “buy in” with either a “Yes” or “No.” It’s all based on $1.00, and that is what you get for each share you buy, if you are correct.
An example: Will Britney Spears’ Dad be out of her conservatorship before Oct. 1? If you don’t agree, you could get shares for .63 apiece. If you do, then that will run you .37. A recent addition was, “Will the KHRC rule to disqualify Medina Spirit from the Kentucky Derby by Oct. 15?” Who knows about that one!
Cashing in on opinions continues apace. In this speculative vein, if we were to construct one of these “prop bets,” what do you think the odds are that the Horseracing Integrity & Safety Act, also known more popularly as “HISA,” will be ready during the Summer of 2022? I am hopeful of this prospect after listening to Charles Scheeler’s upbeat appraisal on the current state of the federal legislation that was signed into law by the Trump Administration late last year.
On Aug. 15, The Jockey Club hosted virtually its annual Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing. Its panel of participants included Scheeler, who was elected chairman of the HISA board in late May, after an illustrious career as a lawyer and advising George Mitchell through the well-known MLB Report that bears the former U.S. Senator’s name. The Round Table topics that were discussed hit on a myriad of issues related to the sport of Thoroughbred racing, but none were as important as what Scheeler had to say, in my estimation. Nearly, everything else had the air of marketing and salesmanship, rather than true reporting of anything earth-shattering. Scheeler expressed himself emphatically, and without hesitation, which was refreshing to hear. A replay of the Round Table is available here.
It sounds like, at this point, the two HISA committees (one each for racetrack safety and anti-doping policies) are hard at work, hoping to produce a structure that can be weighed and measured. According to the chairman, that draft should be ready by the fall, and a subsequent “final copy” will be polished by next spring. The Federal Trade Commission will then review these recommendations and cherry pick the ones they think will work within the bounds of the law. In other words, they could like them all, some, or none of them. Where Scheeler provided little in the way of illumination was funding. How and who exactly is going to pay for this – the taxpayers, the sport itself, the bettors? I’ve been concerned about this point for quite some time now, and I know I am not alone (See Paulick Report editor-in-chief Natalie Voss’ article on this topic). What we do know is that once the target date of July 1 arrives, and everything is in place, then it goes “live.”
In his presentation, Scheeler referenced the ubiquitous “industry,” mentioning that the two halves of HISA could only succeed with broad support from it. I’ve been struck by that word for some time now, and I wondered just exactly of whom he was speaking? Did he mean the members of The Jockey Club? The various racing and breeding organizations that exist? What about those that own or work on horse farms? The betting public or reps from the gaming sector, was that it? During the broadcast, other panelists followed with the same overt usage. I went to my trusty dictionary, and though it has several definitions, in this context its meaning appears to be a “particular form or branch of economic or commercial activity.” It is not just The Jockey Club presenter at the Round Table; “industry” or “industry-wide” regularly gets tossed around when it comes to matters pertaining to horse racing.
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Pulling the curtain back, Thoroughbred racing as an “industry” exists in several wide-ranging, and seemingly disparate pockets. It is not like steel, automobiles, or cosmetics. When it comes to the sport, there are multiple industries intricately involved. There is agriculture, which touches most. Equine-related entertainment networks and racetracks bring together connections, which in turn engages the fans and/or the bettors. Of course, gambling is probably the most prominent of all of these. It influences racing because that is where the money comes from for purse structures and keeping the lights on.
Currently, this horse racing nexus of “industries” on the whole could not continue in many states without the full support of non-racing revenue. To that end, in a state like Maryland, casino revenue given to the sport undermines the economic incentive to identify, monitor, and minimize the risks. HISA has faced stiff competition because of a hash of rules and regulations that are complex and interfere with a national agenda that includes safety and testing. It will not be easy for them to wrestle control away from locales that may not agree with the end product. What seems to be true is that horse racing supporters of this great sport continue to ensure the perpetual welfare for what could be termed a “hobby” for the wealthy. Take away non-racing revenue, and what would remain?
One need look no further than the situation in New Mexico and what has occurred this past year, to witness the utter collapse of an “industry.” When the state cut off casino funding because those entities were closed due to COVID, the horse people of the state suffered. Really and truly, all professional sport franchises, and for that matter the Olympic Games, have a similar problem when it comes to cash flow. Teams are always looking for new and better stadiums (i.e., Chicago Bears), and expect the public to fund them, despite the fact that the money is not beneficial to taxpayers whatsoever. The Thoroughbred “Industry” continues to be able to generate all the right incentives at all the wrong times. That is an investment that is not about future building, as it only exists in the present (See Donna Brothers’ two-part series on this topic of survival into the future: part 1 part 2).
The Jockey Club Round Table participants spent significant time talking about growing the game. Who could lead the charge as an influencer in order to produce the next generation of supporters. I find this argument that the sport must change in order to attract new blood because the public demands it, a red herring. On the contrary, it is quite the opposite. I have come to the conclusion over the past few years that the public doesn’t “think” about the sport of horse racing on a regular or even semi-regular basis, unless say, a scandal or horse deaths reach the mainstream media. The central issue is that sport is too insular, overcomplicated, and self-absorbed that it forgot that it needs new people to survive. It is like we have an expertly hand-built Ferrari, only to be left with wheels made of wood. It will not last.
With potentially an expensive set of programs that are due out in the form of HISA next year, where does that leave the sport and its grand plans for a revolution? It turns out, the so-called “industry” is sorely lacking in the stability department, with funding in several states that can be both essential and hugely detrimental. Downturns in the economy, which can affect everything from breeding operations to bettors’ pocketbooks, makes for shaky ground because “help” never create self-reliance. Ayn Rand-esque warnings remind us that dependence is always subject to political winds (take Pennsylvania’s travails). Will HISA suffer such a fate?
My sense is that everyone connected to Thoroughbred racing, Mr. Scheeler included, needs to think long and hard about how we respond to HISA’s recommendations starting this fall. Racetrack safety and medication policies should be at the forefront of all our minds. If our “industry” cannot adequately respond, it may have a detrimental impact on the result, leading to a boutique sport on the verge of extinction. Those wooden wheels are not going to be able to drive this Ferrari, if industry-wide support does not occur. A nexus event if there ever was one … that much is certain.
As for that mythical Polymarket future wager on whether HISA rolls out by July of next year, I wouldn’t necessarily bet against Scheeler and his blue-ribbon committees. Industry involvement or not, I hope they succeed.
J.N. Campbell is a turf writer with Gaming USA. His work can be found at www.horseracing.net/us.
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