The Role of the NTRA - Part 1

One of the very few things I don't like about writing these blogs is that I don't have nearly enough time to respond to as many of your interesting comments as I'd like. But this week, I want to focus on a recent query from one of my readers asking me to explain to those "on the horse side" of the business, "What is the role of NTRA - what can NTRA realistically accomplish week to week?"    

First, the NTRA is different from racing's so-called "alphabet soup" groups, each of which is a traditional (and valuable) trade association representing a single group of similarly situated organizations and/or people.  For instance, the HBPA is made up of trainers and owners.  The TRA consists entirely of race tracks. TOBA represents owners and breeders.  The NTRA is an amalgam of almost every constituency in horseracing.  Our Board of Directors consists of an equal number of horsemen (owners, breeders, trainers and sales companies) and tracks (including CDI, MEC, NYRA, Keeneland and regionally elected track reps).  The strength of the NTRA is its inclusiveness.

That inclusiveness can also make it difficult to act because doing so requires a consensus among all the constituencies.  In that respect, the NTRA is more like a legislative body than a trade association because we have to consider multiple points of view when we act.  Some in our business feel that "consensus" is a four letter word and push for a more autocratic model like a "league" with a "commissioner."  Truth is, sports leagues and commissioners are consensus-driven as well.  They just have fewer constituencies to lead.  This is why many of the well-intentioned suggestions about leagues, commissioners, czars and the like in racing are extremely difficult to implement effectively.

In spite of the challenges, the NTRA does a lot that affects "the horse side" on a daily basis, and I will be sharing some insights with you over the next few weeks in a series of blogs.  Perhaps the most important way we impact the horse industry is through our work in Washington, D.C.  Precisely because of our broad-based constituency, we are the kind of group that federal lawmakers like to hear from.  They want one point of contact and clear guidance from the industry.  The NTRA is able to provide that and, as a consequence, we are recognized as the voice of the Thoroughbred racing industry. Speaking with a clear, strong voice on behalf of our stakeholders, we have  secured passage of legislation protecting  horse racing's right to conduct Internet wagering (which supports purses for horsemen), and legislation to shorten the depreciation schedule for young horses (which makes horse ownership more affordable). In a town where thousands of bills are introduced annually and only a few hundred are ever passed, we have a remarkable track record.  

Supporting all of these federal efforts is the NTRA's political action committee known as Horse PAC, which has raised and contributed some $2 million to federal candidates since 2003.  Few in our industry are aware of the fact that ours is one of the largest gaming/wagering political action committees in the country. PAC money does not buy influence or guarantee any outcome, but it is a vitally important lobbying tool.

Equally important is the NTRA's ¼ percent Check-Off program, which raises money to fund our federal lobbying.  The Check-Off Program lets horse buyers, sellers and consigners at Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, OBS and Barretts contribute directly to the NTRA's lobbying fund. The sales companies themselves join in, with more the $1 million raised annually to fund our legislative efforts on Capitol Hill. 

What is the NTRA doing now on Capitol Hill that affects you? Plenty. We are working to delay implementation of the regulations associated with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Simply put, the regulations can negatively affect the ability of horseplayers to fund their advance deposit wagering accounts.   A $1.3 billion market is at risk. So are the thousands of online horseplayers and the hundreds of thousands of purse dollars that Internet wagering brings to our sport. Fans and revenues are two things our industry can't afford to lose.

We also drafted and found sponsors for the Pace Act  to eliminate the automatic federal tax withholding on winning wagers.  Again, this puts more money in the hands of our horseplayers who in turn wager more, which pushes purses for owners higher.  We founded the Horseplayers' Coalition, made up of NHC Tour participants and other horseplayers, to help push this bill and other player issues in Washington. 

To sum up, effective political advocacy has three main ingredients: consensus, preparedness and opportunity. We start with issues that the industry fully supports. We work diligently to research and draft legislation, meet with lawmakers and their vehicle that can pass through Congress. Our legislative staff, attend political fundraisers and then identify an appropriate legislative team is constantly building relationships with those who understand our industry's issues while it looks for legislative opportunities, which ebb and flow daily in Washington.

Occasionally, we have issues that are so complex, divisive and far-reaching that there's no industry consensus on them. In those instances, we turn to alternative solutions such as public policy, industry programs like the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, and NTRA Charities. Why? Because our success in the political arena depends first and foremost on consensus.  In the absence of agreement, we can't - and shouldn't - expect Congress to solve our problems for us. Fortunately, the NTRA is equipped to provide industry-based solutions, too.

I will discuss the work of NTRA Charities in more detail next week in Part II of this series. Part III will cover our Safety & Integrity Alliance, and Part IV will highlight the NTRA's marketing and promotions.

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