Illinois Racing Will Get Casino Money

The bill passed the Illinois General Assembly

By Bob Kieckhefer

The Illinois General Assembly has approved and sent to Gov. Rod Blagovich a bill that will extend the diversion to horse racing of 3% of revenues from the state's four highest-grossing riverboat casinos. The provision is estimated to be worth as much as $30 million a year and by law is divided 60% for purses and 40% for tracks.

The subsidy has been on the books for three years but expired during 2008. The new legislation would extend it through mid-2011.

Racing interests have yet to see any actual benefit from the original legislation because legal action by the casinos has kept the money in escrow. That litigation, however, has almost run its course and payment of the accumulated money is expected early in 2009.

The subsidy will end if race tracks win the right to operate slot machines, or when a 10th riverboat casino begins paying state taxes. Fifteen percent of the revenue from the 10th casino is earmarked for racing – an amount that could be double the current subsidy.

The Illinois Gaming Board hopes to award that license in December, with the casino due to begin operations early in 2010. However, there is a long history of litigation around the award of the 10th license and extension of the existing 3% subsidy provides a baseline of security for Illinois tracks should the new casino be delayed further.

The extension was approved during the Legislature's post-election "veto session." The House okayed it on a vote of 88-16 and Senate approved, 37-13.