Greg Means died suddenly two weeks ago at the age of 62. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, it should. For over two decades working with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Greg and his firm the Alpine Group were our principal lobbyists in Washington. It was Greg’s responsibility to promote and advocate for the economic health and well-being of our industry during very challenging times as competition from other forms of gaming grew and animal rights advocates questioned our relevance and very existence. He was a great advocate who was both influential and respected on Capitol Hill. I know. As a 20-plus year member of the NTRA Board of Directors, I was fortunate to have a front row seat and work with Greg as the NTRA grew its footprint in Washington, D.C. in support of the Thoroughbred industry. While the NTRA has been criticized for many things, its work on behalf of the industry on Capitol Hill has not been one of them. Much of the NTRA’s success in the area of federal legislative advocacy can be traced to Greg and his firm.
Greg was a rare individual. He was not your typical silk-stocking lobbyist. He was different. Unabashedly blunt, with a southern drawl and downhome personality rooted in his small-town Arkansas upbringing, he was equally effective in the offices of some of the most powerful and influential lawmakers in the land or speaking before a small gathering of industry stakeholders worried about the future of Thoroughbred racing.
What distinguished Greg, and made for effective advocacy, was his own lifetime love of horseracing and betting, which began at his spiritual home, Oaklawn Park, long before he arrived in D.C. He was an informed, passionate and convincing advocate as a result of those early experiences. When he explained how the tax code worked against horseplayers, the Hill staff got it because he lived it and loved it. The Board of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (THA), which I chair, loved his briefings. We learned as much about the current state of American politics as we did the intricacies of legislation or issues that he was promoting or deflecting.
Over the course of his career representing our industry, Greg kept a relatively low profile. Nonetheless, his impact on our business was enormous. Whether you are a breeder, owner, trainer, racetrack operator, bloodstock agent, jockey, sales company representative or horseplayer, Greg helped you by improving the business of racing and breeding Thoroughbreds.
Greg and the Alpine Group were first retained to help the NTRA establish relationships with key lawmakers and committees on Capitol Hill–those who could dramatically impact the entire industry with one vote or the stroke of a pen. Almost overnight, he helped form Horse PAC, which quickly became one of the racing and gaming industry’s largest and most influential political action committees. By helping us handicap hundreds of Congressional races over 20 years, Greg’s astute choices enabled the industry to build a core roster of Congressional allies, many of whom have supported our legislation over that entire time span.
In 2004, Greg helped us devise a strategy to secure passage of legislation to eliminate a 30% withholding tax on winnings by foreign nationals wagering into U.S. pools–something of vital importance to the Breeders’ Cup and others pursuing an international wagering market.
In 2006, with internet wagering under assault by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and various lawmakers, Greg almost singlehandedly saved the industry ADW sites from being criminalized by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) by negotiating a carveout for state regulated pari-mutuel wagering. The carveout preserved the status quo under which ADW sites were operating legally at the time.
In 2008, Greg led the charge to secure passage of the Equine Equity Act (EEA), part of the broader Farm Bill, that allowed for accelerated depreciation of racehorses from seven years (in most cases) to three years–an important change especially to many smaller owners and breeders. Greg and his partners at the Alpine Group helped us renew that three-year depreciation provision, which almost sunset in 2013, for many more years.
Over the years, Greg helped us pursue numerous industry objectives on Capitol Hill–sometimes on offense to pass legislation and often on defense to keep Congress from passing legislation that would hurt our industry. But nothing Greg helped us accomplish was more important than the win we achieved in 2017. After many years of unsuccessful attempts, Greg and his team devised a strategy to leverage the strength of thousands of horseplayers to convince the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS to modernize antiquated withholding and reporting requirements relative to winning pari-mutuel proceeds, thus making our wagering product fairer and more attractive. The changes virtually eliminated what were referred to by horseplayers as “signers” and since 2017 have kept hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of horseplayers and within the pari-mutuel system.
Later in 2017, Greg and his team at Alpine made sure Thoroughbred racing and breeding where not left out of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law by President Trump. That Act contained a number of tax provisions favorable to the Thoroughbred industry, including 100% bonus depreciation.
As the pandemic raged in 2020 and several COVID-19 relief bills were hurriedly passed by Congress, Greg and his team helped make sure that members of the horse racing and breeding industry would benefit from those critical economic assistance packages.
As recently as this past December, Greg’s work was on full display. Through contacts at the Alpine Group, the NTRA played a key role in identifying and resolving the “shared wallet” challenge, opening the door for sports betting and ADW companies to offer sports betting and horse race wagering on the same platform using a common platform and wallet. The launch of horse racing wagering on the FanDuel app was another quiet, yet important, victory for Greg and for the NTRA in Washington.
Seeing all the important successes achieved on Capitol Hill over the past two decades with Greg’s leadership and strategic acumen, it is no wonder that the NTRA has doubled down on its presence in our nation’s capital by opening a D.C. office and hiring former Congressman Tom Rooney as its President and CEO. A lengthy and proven track record in Washington–made possible with Greg’s able assistance–made these decisions easy for the NTRA.
Year after year, the Thoroughbred industry benefited from Greg’s unique relationship-building skills, his ability to open doors and the respect and high regard in which he was held by all on Capitol Hill. We always celebrate and honor the successes and achievements of our equine athletes, owners, trainers, jockeys and breeders. We tend to forget that there are less-celebrated unsung heroes who make our industry better and stronger. All of us in Thoroughbred racing owe a debt of gratitude and many thanks to Greg Means.
Personally, I will miss Greg’s intellect and his dedication to our industry. He was a true friend and a trusted colleague. People like Greg are hard to forget and even harder to replace.