Protecting Our Drivers
by Joe Faraldo, USTA Chairman of the Board
USTA Rule 5.10 ensures insurance coverage at pari-mutuel tracks
Many years ago, a very fine horseman and USTA director from Portland, Ind., came to me with a tragic story. His boy was very seriously injured in a racing accident, leading to a significant impairment of his ability to enjoy life as he had before.
The heart-aching narrative worsened as I was told that the cost of medical treatment and other related bills were financially ruinous to both father and son. Describing me—rightly or not—as an outspoken director, he implored me to undertake the rectification of this scenario to benefit not him, but future horsepeople who might be caught in similar disastrous circumstances.
Being from New York, I started by investigating if horsepeople were protected by anything in place in my home state. I learned to my complete surprise that while the then New York State Racing and Wagering Board (now the New York State Gaming Commission) had a regulation that required racetracks to provide medical coverage, the regulation did not set forth any parameters, much less a minimum amount for such coverage. That fact alone was beyond troubling and caused me great concern.
It was then that the conversation began with a number of USTA directors who saw the need for action. The result was an initially crafted rule that established a base amount of $100,000 in accident medical coverage to be provided by member racetracks. While the board’s action appeared to improve the situation, it later became apparent that the rule was never put into effect because smaller tracks whined that the premium for that amount of coverage was too expensive. Basically, that meant that if an on-track catastrophe occurred, the injured horsepeople were to be left on their own.
Like with any deliberative body, at the USTA, no one director or group of directors can effectuate change without achieving compromises that would secure the required number of supporting votes to implement such change. After much discussion and debate, a majority of the association’s directors developed a formula that bases the amount of insurance required by each racetrack upon the total amount of annual purses paid in the preceding year rather than on a flat across-the-board basis.
Still, some racetracks complained that the purses paid out in stakes races might skew the formula. Thus, a second concession was reached. It provided that the amount of insurance required would be based solely on the amount of the daily average overnight purses paid in the prior year at each particular track. This give and take resulted in some modicum of fairness while achieving relief where none was previously available.
The result of this careful negotiation is embodied in USTA Rule 5.10, which governs all tracks conducting extended pari-mutuel meetings, meaning race meetings of six days or more. The rule, enacted many years ago, reads as follows:
Driver Insurance.—Each track member conducting an extended pari-mutuel meeting shall prepare and prominently display, in the race secretary’s office, a statement giving the name of the company with which they carry driver insurance. The insurance policy shall provide a minimum of medical coverage equal to the average daily purse amount raced for at the meeting the previous calendar year. At non-pari-mutuel meetings and non-extended pari-mutuel meetings, where driver accident insurance is not provided, notice of that fact shall be conspicuously advertised and printed on condition and overnight sheets.
While certainly positive, the truth is that, at racetracks with relatively small purse structures, the amount of the minimum required insurance coverage could prove to be markedly inadequate to cover expenses for a given incident. At such venues, it is incumbent upon the representative horsepeople’s associations to recognize the potential for a shortfall and specifically negotiate higher coverage amounts into their agreements with racetrack management. At the larger venues, insurance is usually sufficient, but again, given rapidly escalating medical costs, horsepeople’s associations at these ovals should monitor the adequacy of the coverage with a view toward protecting their horsepeople from financial calamity.
For example, at Yonkers Raceway, minimum insurance coverage is established at $250,000 via the contract negotiated by the Standardbred Owners’ Association of New York, and, in fact, covers many categories of participants. Most other horsepeople’s associations are not asleep at the wheel either in the aftermath of the USTA negotiated reforms, occasioned by one conversation with that Portland, Ind., horseman.
The USTA genuinely cares about the welfare of its participants, and the horrific accident on the first turn at Yonkers on the night of Nov. 17 last year highlights the importance of this USTA initiative taken for the protection of our competing members. Like any organization, the USTA is often the recipient of some harsh—though mostly misplaced—criticism. Through its directors, it invariably achieves issue resolution that benefits our members, their safety, and their economic well-being. I am proud to have joined with other directors, representing both membership and tracks, to forge a model that has helped protect our hard-working members. We can, and do, internally negotiate for the good of everyone.
The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the USTA. To comment on this column, email us at email@example.com.