By Steve Ginsburg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A congressional bill that would eliminate most wagering on horseracing, introduced to encourage the sport to end alleged widespread doping and cheating, was labeled on Friday by an industry leader as "a shameless publicity stunt."
The legislation, authored by Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, and Representative Joe Pitts, a Republican from Pennsylvania, would repeal the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 that permits "off-track" and online wagering.
"This bill is a shameless publicity stunt that mischaracterizes one of the nation’s most highly regulated sports," said National Thoroughbred Racing Association President and CEO Alex Waldrop.
Waldrop said the legislation, introduced Thursday, two days before America's most celebrated race, the Kentucky Derby, ignores industry efforts to clean up the game.
About 90 percent of the $11 billion wagered on horseracing comes from either online or interstate "off-track" simulcasting, Udall and Pitts said.
Pitts said in a statement the industry is "plagued by too many unscrupulous trainers, owners, veterinarians and other race track officials who race sickened or injured horses, pumping them full of...drugs in order to try to win at all costs."
The bill was also intended to inspire the elimination of alleged race-fixing, Pitts said.
"We are disappointed that they have decided to take this approach," said James Gagliano, president of The Jockey Club. "The Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 is the lifeblood of the industry, and we strongly oppose any effort to repeal it."
The horse racing industry is looking to adopt the National Uniform Medication Program, a get-tough system designed to target individuals with multiple medication violations.
"Despite years of promises of reform, horseracing groups have been unable to come together to develop uniform rules that protect both horses and the integrity of the sport," Pitts said.
He said that since 2008 more than 7,000 horses have died on U.S. racetracks.
"It's past time to put measures in place that protect racehorses from abuse at the track," he said.
(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Lisa Lambert)