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The Rise of HISA and the Impact on Family-Owned Farms

Earlier this summer, without warning and seemingly out of nowhere, the federal government rolled out the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, now commonly referred to as “HISA.” In a loose attempt to standardize horse racing regulations across the country, HISA quickly misstepped on an industry whose members are unwavering in their efforts to stall the federal changes to American horse racing.

As a family-owned horse racing operation, we have a front row seat to how these changes to horse racing regulations affect the lives of small business owners in our industry. When the HISA rumors and roll-out began, we quickly had to assess brand new legislation and were left answering questions that no one had the answers to:

What regulations were changing? How does HISA interact with the Texas Racing Commission, an agency we were familiar with working with? Do the new regulations affect our choice of trainer? And if we were to register and comply, what routines need to change at Rebel Stables in order to prevent fines?

Unfortunately, the majority of the answers to our questions remain unanswered. In the past three months, HISA has rolled out, retracted, and changed over fifty of their new regulations. Since HISA announced the deadline to register on July 1st, multiple lawsuits have been filed against the new policies, with one judge granting an injunction on the implementation of HISA in Louisiana and West Virginia. Notably, the lawsuit blocked HISA from engagement in both states after citing that HISA failed to allow the required period for public comment on proposed policy changes. Although HISA has filed to appeal the injunction, the lawsuit is a testament to the difficulty of implementation in a complicated, traditional industry in such a short period of time.

In addition to the disorganization of the implementation process, the policy itself has outraged almost all of the members of our industry. As one of the latest lawsuits states: “[HISA] is empowered by law to, among other things, subpoena documents and compel testimony, search businesses and private databases and seize documents, conduct adjudicatory proceedings, and prosecute actions in federal court like other federal prosecutors.” In an industry like horse racing, an overreaching federal government is not well-taken and personal liberties are well-protected. As small business owners, this language concerns us for our private decisions and protection of our home. More specifically, HISA has failed to properly consult members of our community on complex horse racing issues, such as racing gear, ferrier servicing, training policies, and other niche industry-specific regulations. As a result, many industry leaders have spoken out on the uneducated decisions, which has led to HISA policy retraction.

As the horse racing industry continues to struggle to define our future, small business owners continue to be left out of the conversation. In Texas, the Texas Racing Commission has refused to comply with HISA, which has had consequences throughout the country, including the ban on streaming Texas races out-of-state. Just recently, the owners of Lone Star Park and other industry leaders, filed a new lawsuit against HISA, seeking an injunction like in Louisiana and West Virginia. As of now, there are no scheduled Thoroughbred races in Texas for the remainder of the year due to the traction with HISA.

In response to industry backlash, HISA has made an effort to incorporate horsemen opinion on changes to regulations. The Racetrack Safety Committee, a committee within HISA, responded to messaging from several U.S. Congressmen on the disapproval of their constituents with HISA by adding horsemen to committees within HISA to inform decisions. Which, you know, perhaps they could have thought of before all of this actually happened.

Regardless of the past indiscretions, HISA released a statement this week stating that: “HISA is the law and it is in effect. Notwithstanding that there is ongoing litigation, we believe that it is our responsibility on behalf of our constituencies to engage with HISA as necessary to ensure that our horses are protected, our horsemen are treated fairly and responsibly, and that the integrity of racing is preserved. The fact that horsemen are not represented on any HISA Committee is a missed opportunity that we believe needs to be corrected. In the meantime, we will continue to vigorously advocate for the best interests of the safety and welfare of the horse and the best interests of our horsemen. We continue to engage with HISA as the best way to serve our membership and the industry at large and this decision underscores their willingness to engage with us and make changes as necessary.” Whether or not this statement is true and indicative of more informed decisions in the future, this is the first step to bridge the gap between the government and the horse racing industry.

As of now, we continue to wait. On August 15, the Racing and Gaming Conference at Saratoga will be hosting an open forum for horse racing industry leaders to examine the implementation of HISA. In light of upcoming updates, we will continue to stay informed and make the best decisions for our family-owned farm.

Morgan BatesJ.D. Candidate at the University of Texas School of Law

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