The Illinois Racing Board on Jan. 24 discussed a proposal to put $500,000 in expected surplus funds into the state's purse accounts.
The plan remains vague, however, as legislation to formally authorize the transfer has not yet been introduced. The exact amount available is not clearly defined and a formal allocation plan for the funds has not been made public.
While the idea generally drew favorable reviews, many key players in the Illinois racing industry skipped the IRB meeting in favor of a state Senate committee hearing in Springfield on a measure that would allow casino gaming at the state's three remaining tracks.
IRB chairman Jeffrey Brincat said the amount available to move to purse accounts is "right around $500,000, maybe more ... Putting this money into purses, whether it's $50 or $50 million, would be in the best interest of Illinois racing," Brincat said.
Horsemen agreed, warily.
"We're dying as an industry on the horsemen's side," David McCaffrey, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, told the meeting. "Any extra money we can get, as long as it's legal, we're happy to get as long as there are no unintended consequences."
By "unintended consequences," McCaffrey said, he meant "restrictions on how our association works."
The extra funds, according to IRB staff, would come from money left over from the current fiscal year's appropriation as a result of administrative savings. Executive director Domenic Dicera said plans for distribution of the funds has not been finalized but "will be clear" before final approval is sought.
Brincat believes the board has the authority under existing law to transfer excess funds to purse accounts. But to make the situation completely clear, he said, legislation is being prepared to add to the board's mission "promotion of" racing, in addition to regulation.
The board also approved "purse recapture" money for the state's tracks. That provision of the state's racing law permits tracks to take from their purse accounts a percentage of the drop in wagering on local races as a result of the implementation in 1995 of full-card simulcasting.
For the current year, Arlington International Racecourse was authorized to "recapture" $4,433,309; Hawthorne Race Course, $2,608,878 from the Thoroughbred account and $2,105,636 from the Standardbred account; and Fairmount Park, $1,828,667 from the Thoroughbred account and $43,757 from the Illinois Colt Fund.
In Springfield, the state Senate is considering a massive package of bills designed to break a two-year logjam that has left Illinois without a state budget and a backlog of unpaid bills exceeding $10 billion. One of those measures would authorize an expansion of gaming, including five new casinos and full casino gaming at Arlington, Hawthorne, and Fairmount.
The bill was moved out of committee after a brief hearing Tuesday and placed at the passage stage on the Senate floor.
The Senate effort, however, is seen as a longshot since neither Gov. Bruce Rauner nor House Speaker Michael Madigan has endorsed the plan. Even if the plan does move forward, each of the bills in it would be subject to substantial revision and each has its different mix of supporters and opponents.
The legislature twice before has passed gaming expansion bills including gaming at tracks. Former Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed both measures, citing a lack of sufficient regulation.
Illinois racing has been losing ground for more than a decade as surrounding states have approved alternative funding schemes for their tracks, allowing those tracks to boost purses and increase racing opportunities.