Illinois Facing Cutbacks in 2014 Racing Dates

The 2014 Illinois live racing schedule likely will be trimmed back significantly as a result of revenue shortfalls, the Illinois Racing Board indicated Sept. 11.
 
Board members attended a day-long evidentiary hearing on the 2014 schedule at which Arlington Park and Hawthorne Racecourse both laid claim to key live racing dates and to revenue generated by simulcasting when the state's tracks are dark.
 
Much of the attention, however, centered on overall cutbacks that may be necessitated by the legislature's failure to authorize advance deposit wagering between Jan. 1 and June 7 of this year. The hiatus in the popular internet wagering option cost the IRB about $750,000 in tax revenue–money used to regulate live racing.
 
The $750,000 equates to the cost of regulating about 115 live racing dates, IRB executive director Marc Laino said. While the board has sufficient funds to get through calendar 2013, he said, it will run short during 2014 as the state's fiscal year rolls on unless an alternate funding source appears.
 
Worse, the current ADW authorization expires at the end of 2013. There is no guarantee it will be extended, and horsemen are seeking changes in the revenue allocation, prompting fears of a potential legislative battle.
 
Each of the state's racing organizations was asked during the hearing to outline the least onerous reductions in its proposed schedule, should that become necessary. Pressed for an answer by IRB chairman William Berry, Hawthorne president Tim Carey said his proposed December dates should be the first casualty. When Berry persisted, asking the organizations to consider reductions beyond December, Carey had no response.
 
Hawthorne and Arlington also engaged in a prolonged battle over how to calculate taxes paid by each organization, apparently fearing a reduction in dates might be allocated based on how much each contributes to government revenue.
 
Other licensees proactively addressed the looming crisis.
 
Fairmount Park in downstate Collinsville, in a joint action with the Illinois Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, volunteered to reduce its proposed schedule from 69 programs in 2013 to 52 next year, a 25% reduction. And the Chicago-area harness tracks offered to go dark during the days harness racing is conducted at the Illinois State Fair.
 
Looming cutbacks did not preclude Arlington and Hawthorne from disputing rights to simulcast revenue for January and February or the right to run during the first week of May and the first week of October. The May week includes the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands (gr. I)–one of the most desirable dates on the calendar.
 
Arlington's pitch for the "dark host" revenue, estimated at about $3 million for January and February, included plans to partially fund night racing, a new "Jumbotron," improvements in the existing tote board, and an enhanced marketing effort designed to attract new fans.
 
Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said the additional revenue also would restore purse supplements lost this year when 18 dark days were reallocated from Arlington to Hawthorne. "We have to get money to the owners," he said. "That feeds money back into the breeding industry."
 
Hawthorne said it needs and deserves the revenue because it keeps its backstretch open during the non-racing weeks, providing stabling and training facilities, housing for workers, and business for suppliers. That arrangement also keeps horses in the state for spring racing, which benefits Arlington, Carey argued.
 
"If you want a racetrack that houses people, that has costs, then you have to provide the revenue," Carey said.
 
Ultimately, Carey said, none of the Illinois tracks will be able to compete nationally unless the state legislature authorizes slot machines at tracks–a plan which has failed repeatedly in the past few years, most recently by gubernatorial veto.
 
"If we're going to compete with other states that have slots," Carey said, "we need this legislation. We believe it's right around the corner."
 
Though attendance was not required, all members of the board were present for the meeting and all stayed until the end, well after 7 p.m. CDT. The board is scheduled to vote on a 2014 schedule at its regular meeting Sept. 24.

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