Day At The Track

National Racing License? We are almost there

09:20 PM 05 Nov 2008 NZDT
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Imagine applying for a single owner, trainer or driver license that will allow you to compete at harness tracks in any state; a license that requires you to be fingerprinted only one time, because your prints will be kept in a perpetual database.

Apply once, and you're in all over the country, and maybe even beyond. Sound farfetched? Given recent advances in communications and information technology, the concept of a universal racing accreditation respected by all licensing jurisdictions is certainly well within reach. In fact, in large extent it's already here! How this mechanism could finally be established in the not-too-distant future and how you can benefit from present licensing options is what this article is all about.

The "state" route: Whether medicine, law, accounting or racehorse grooming, the licensing of occupations is traditionally reserved to the various state governments as an exercise of their independent police power. The specific laws of the state and rules and regulations of the racing commission where you wish to compete dictate the qualifications and requirements for participation in harness racing. If you want a license you go to the commission office at a racetrack, fill out the paperwork, get fingerprinted and photographed, pay some fees and get a receipt that in some jurisdictions acts as a temporary license. If everything "checks out" (prints are clean, check clears) over the next several days, you get a valid license in the mail.

What's wrong with this process? Initially nothing; but many problems manifest down the road. When your horse is scheduled to compete at an out of state track, both you and your trainer must obtain a license in this new state. This will require yet another set of paperwork, photos and possibly another set of fingerprints. In our sport, where racing in several different states is the rule rather than the exception, going the individual state licensing route makes little sense. Moreover, when a license issued by a state is up for renewal, a new set of fingerprints is often required because several jurisdictions do not retain the prints in either "hard" or digitalized fashion.

The "ARCI" route: If the ONLY license you seek is an owner's license, an applicant can utilize the Multi-Jurisdictional Licensing Program established by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI). This program has designed a standard application that requests information from the owner required by all of the approximately 25 states (and Ontario) that accept the form, as well as information specific to certain jurisdictions such as New York. You simply obtain one set of fingerprints, fill out the application, make several copies, and sign each copy as an original. You mark on the back of the fingerprint card those states to which you want the criminal background information generated by a print check to be disclosed. You then send the fingerprint card and one original application to a jurisdiction you desire to be licensed in that requires the prints. You send the other originals to the remainder of jurisdictions desired, but without the need to submit fingerprint cards to those state commissions. Of course, you are required to send the appropriate license fee to each state racing commission, along with an additional fingerprint check processing fee to the jurisdiction where the physical print card has been forwarded.

In essence, this ARCI program helps you help yourself apply for owners licenses in more than a few states at once by providing a form acceptable in several jurisdictions and facilitating the sharing of background check information among these states. Still, there are several drawbacks. The fingerprint cards are not centrally kept, necessitating the eventual need to be reprinted for renewal licenses and possibly when subsequently applying in additional states. In addition, the licenses received via mail are often in the form of a receipt; obtaining an actual photo license requires a trip to a racing commission office in the respective state. In any event, drivers and trainers can't even make use of the multi-jurisdictional program.

The "NRC" route: The closest thing to a universal harness racing license, and the plan that needs to be built upon, is the program developed by the National Racing Compact (NRC). Officially started in 2000, the NRC is anindependent, interstate governmental entity, composed of pari-mutuel racing regulators from participating states, which has been authorized by the states and approved by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to receive criminal history information from the FBI. In effect, the regulatory bodies of the states participating in the compact agree to share all background information received by any one member. Moreover, compact member states agree tostandards that are comparable to the strictest criteria of all the participating states.These two items permit the NRC to act as acentral licensing office. The NRC sets standards for individual licenses, accept applications and fingerprints, analyze criminal history information and issue a national license which will be recognized by all member states and other states that may elect to recognize the license. Unlike ARCI'sMulti-Jurisdictional Licensing Program, the NRC issues licenses to trainers and drivers as well as owners.

For a present fee of only $225.00 plus the participation fee for the state(s) you wish to race in, you can simply fill out the compact application and submit it with fingerprints and photo. If the standards are met (clean criminal, racing and integrity record), a three (3) year national license is issued. What you get is the recognition of the nine (9) present member states where harness racing is conducted and to which you paid participation fees of a valid license status. If you want to later add on other member jurisdictions, you simply pick up the phone, dial a toll-free number, arrange payment of that state's participation fee, and the NRC obtains for you a valid status through the NRC license. In addition, for those states that have not yet signed the compact, the NRC will handle the entire process necessary to get you a state-issued license in that jurisdiction. Inasmuch as the NRC standards are stringent, many non-member participating states will grant reciprocity, meaning that they will issue a state license based simply upon the applicant's NRC license and a fee.

In addition to these clearing house-type functions, the NRC alerts you regarding your need to renew in each jurisdiction, resubmits your fingerprints if necessary and handles you renewals over the phone. As the NRC archives your fingerprints electronically, there is never a need for you to be reprinted, or pay the fees associated with fingerprinting ever again. Additionally, individual NRC license holders can obtain NRC "stable name / ownership entity" (SNOE) licenses for their partnerships, LLCs and corporations simply by filling out the appropriate form and paying a state fee, but without the need to pay the compact a national licensing fee.

Click here to learn how the NRC can be of benefit to you:

Making it truly Universal: Obviously, the ultimate goal is to expand membership in, not just participation with, the compact to every harness racing jurisdiction in theUnited StatesandCanada. As with ARCI's model racing and medication rules, uniform adoption in the totality of racing venues involves the constant display of the integrity of the licensing criteria adopted coupled with the potential fiscal and regulatory benefits member commissions might enjoy. In areas such as commercial law and child custody, the overwhelming majority of state legislatures have chosen to adopt uniform laws. The need for such state-by-state cooperation in these important subject areas is readily apparent. So too, in an age where racehorses log more miles in interstate transit than on racetracks, the need for a single and reliable license should be clearly evident.

Finally, harness racing is in an exceptional position to help facilitate the process by which applicants receive national licenses. Unlike The Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred breed registry, the USTA issues memberships to horsemen and registers the unique stable names of racing concerns. The Standardbred breed registry deals with much more than just horses. Our Association is a vast repository of information concerning the human and business entity participants in the sport.

Imagine a potential relationship whereby the USTA and NRC would agree to share information on a mutually acceptable, fee-based basis. A member might be able to apply for a license for an affiliated racing entity, or even himself, simply by giving the NRC his USTA membership number or stable name along with fees and prints. Moreover, because of the Association's connection with member tracks, necessary information could be shared with racing secretaries as well as racing commissions. The first step toward making this all happen is the establishment of dialogue between the two groups.

A single, national racing license is not simply a theoretical concept. The need is pressing; the technology is available; the costs are reasonable; fee-sharing arrangements are feasible; and the numerous benefits are identifiable. Maybe more importantly, the entire notion is relatively non-controversial. As the saying goes, national licensing is a horse that couldn't lose with a bad drive.

Chris E. WITTSTRUCK is an attorney and Standardbred owner, is the founder and coordinator of the Racehorse Ownership Institute at Hofstra University, New York and a charter member of the Albany Law School Racing and Gaming Law Network.

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