Arkansas Gambling Regulators Vote To Join HISA

Written By J.R. Duren on March 21, 2023
Arkansas Gambling Regulators Join HISA

The Arkansas Racing Commission (ARC), the body that oversees Arkansas gambling on horse racing, voted to enter a voluntary agreement to join the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA).

The move is a contentious one, as it puts state-level agencies under a federal-level doping program designed to protect horses.

Walter Ebel, general counsel for Arkansas’ Oaklawn Jockey Club, said joining HISA was pretty much a decision of necessity. Ebel told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

“I think what we’re seeing as the inevitable is here. I don’t think anybody has been a big fan of it, but it is what it is. And so we’ve got to go ahead and sign up and get the voluntary implementation going. And just go along with it. See what happens.”

The program will go into effect, presumably, on Mar. 27, pending approval by the Federal Trade Commission.

ARC fears spurning HISA will cost too much

The HISA has been controversial, to say the least. Two states, Texas and Idaho have refused to join. They believe it’s a matter of states’ rights; they shouldn’t have to bow to federal horse racing oversight. Should the HISA go into
effect later this month, federal testers will handle doping testing instead of state-level employees.

However, Texas has paid the price. The government won’t allow states that don’t join HISA to send their in-state races to out-of-state off-track-betting facilities. As a result, the state’s horse racing industries are losing out on millions of dollars on horse betting. Furthermore, the financial devastation would lead to lowered purses.

And that’s a risk that the ARC just didn’t want to take, Ebel said. “The [Oaklawn] Horsemen and Oaklawn looked at that and that would be devastating to the purses,” Ebel said. “Our signal sells very well and it’s very good for us.”

Arkansas gambling commissioner calls HISA ‘unconstitutional’

Ebel was measured in his distaste for HISA. Others weren’t so cordial. Commission member Alex Lieblong said HISA was unconstitutional and that he hopes the program crashes and burns.

“I think most of us think it is unconstitutional, but that doesn’t mean it’s so,” Lieblong said. “I hope it all gets thrown out [and] we can be done with them within six months, but I doubt it. I’ve watched them do so many things unconstitutional over the year.”

Part of Lieblong’s beef is the fact that the ARC has to pay monthly fees to HISA totaling more than $2 million. Ebel pointed out that entering HISA makes Arkansas eligible for up to $310,000 in credits toward that fee.

Photo by Playin USA
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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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