By Dan Ross
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) has released its proposed budget for 2024, totaling $80.96 million, including $38.7 million earmarked for the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU), the drug testing arm of the federal program.
The total fee assessments for the states and racetracks come out to $78.5 million, but available credits potentially bring that number down to $59.8 million.
HISA's 2023 total budget was initially set at $72.5 million. That number was subsequently revised down to $66.4 million earlier this year.
The proposed 2024 budget was issued on Aug. 17, but the opportunity to publicly comment on it ended on Thursday, Aug. 24.
While the proposed budget is listed as a press release on the HISA website, it was not sent out in wide circulation via email like other HISA press releases. On Aug. 9, however, the Authority included in an email on 2022 tax filings a warning that the budget would be released “in the coming days.”
The proposed budget is broken down among the following HISA-related departments: the racetrack safety program, the Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) program, technology, and administration costs.
Among the big-ticket items, $21.2 million has been allocated for lab testing and $9.5 million for “professional services.”
The latter is a broad category denoting things like “external support for critical functions ranging from arbitration fees to companies that support our IT infrastructure and man our help desk,” explained HISA spokesperson Mandy Minger.
Some $3.6 million is set aside for legal fees, including the cost of lawsuits.
Total revenues from fines related to the racetrack safety and ADMC programs, along with other sources of income like those from lab testing, come to $3.6 million.
According to Minger, these revenues will be used to reduce the net expenses, “and therefore reduce the 2024 assessments.”
Nearly $23 million of HIWU's $38.7 million operating budget goes toward “collection costs,” with $6.7 million going toward salaries.
The total price tag of operating the entire ADMC program–which includes that for HIWU, as well as drug testing and adjudication cost—comes to $59.5 million.
The Authority's loan repayments total $1.25 million.
In a May Q&A, HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus told the TDN that The Jockey Club, the Breeders' Cup and the NTRA had all provided loans to the program, and that they were “pretty much no interest” loans designed to cover short-term operational costs.
While the proposed budget for next year is more detailed than previous iterations, it is still lacking in granular line-item details explaining exactly how the money is being used, said National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) CEO Eric Hamelback.
“We are not surprised by the increase [from 2022 totals], but here we are once again not able to truly assess the budget due to the lack of transparency in the breakdown of the figures,” said Hamelback.
Individual racing commissions can choose to cover the assessed fee for the state–broadly speaking, a figure calculated on a formula based on total starts and purses.
Where commissions enter into a voluntary agreement with the Authority for existing personnel to conduct tasks like sample collection, conducting investigations, and adjudicating violations, the state is privy to a credit on its total assessment.
According to the proposed budget for next year, the total to be assessed comes to $78.5 million, with $18.7 million available in industry credits.
The states that decline to cover these financial assessments pass the burden of responsibility onto the racetracks in the state.
Yet to be issued, the 2024 fee assessments for the states and racetracks must be made public by Nov. 1 this year.
“We anticipate that the assessment will be released in October,” said Minger, who added that the same formula to assess these fees will be used again.
According to Hamelback, several states are “looking at the possibilities” for next year “of not sending their signal out in order to maintain racing” because of the financial burden posed by these fees.
Such a move would mirror the state of Texas, which has maintained since the advent of HISA a blackout on sending its simulcasting signal out of state in order to operate outside of the federal program's jurisdiction.
Hamelback added, however, he was not positioned to publicly name the states considering this option.