By Bob Kieckhefer
The Illinois Racing Board Aug. 30 referred to staff a request by a horsemen’s group to require racetracks to hold newfound purse money in segregated, interest-bearing accounts. However, track officials said they already do that, and one IRB member said horsemen are making a “mountain out of a molehill” on the issue.
The request was prompted by the recent release to purse accounts of $85 million in “impact fee” money from the state’s highest-grossing casinos. The cash had been held in escrow for years while the casinos challenged the law requiring them to contribute to tracks.
Another $56 million was released to the tracks for improvements and operating expenses.
Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said more accountability and transparency is needed for handling that money and the additional millions expected if Gov. Pat Quinn signs recently passed legislation authorizing slot machines at tracks.
“We’re not happy with any of it, and we’re asking the (board) to get involved in this matter,” Campbell said.
However, the Illinois THA did not provide specific language for the IRB to consider, so the issue was referred to staff for further consideration. IRB chairman Joseph Sinopoli said he hopes horsemen and tracks can agree so the issue can be resolved without formal action. If not, he said, another hearing will be scheduled.
“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” board member Jonathan Metcalf said. “I don’t want to see daily reconciliation for the purse accounts."
The IRB did not discuss a continuing disagreement between the Illinois THA and Arlington Park about distribution of the impact fee money. Arlington began distribution Aug. 12 with purse increases scheduled through 2014.
Campbell said the distribution schedule violates his organization’s contract with Arlington. However, he did not outline any plans to contest Arlington’s schedule other than further negotiations. Arlington officials said their distribution formula fits the criteria outlined by horsemen.
The state’s other tracks have reached specific agreements with the Illinois THA on distribution of the impact fee money, Campbell said.
The IRB also approved the fall stakes schedule for Hawthorne Race Course, including a $500,000 purse for the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) Oct. 8 and $175,000 for the Hawthorne Derby (gr. III) Oct. 15. A Hawthorne spokesman said the track is seeking sponsorship to boost the latter purse to $200,000.
Six stakes restricted for Illinois-breds Oct. 22 will get purse increases from $100,000 each to $125,000.