Illinois horse racing is mired in a “downward spiral that will require action by state government to save it,” Hawthorne Race Course President Tim Carey said as his track prepared to open the 2007 Illinois Thoroughbred season Friday.
Describing the state of Illinois racing as “near rock bottom," Carey added in a statement, “In order to compete on a level playing field, the Illinois racing industry must have slot machines at the racetracks. We used to compete with each other for dates. Now we compete with casinos and other racing jurisdictions with casinos. As a result, the business has suffered because we have lost horse owners, trainers, jockeys and drivers to other states.”
Carey said he will deliver that message to horsemen, legislators and anyone else who will listen at opening ceremonies kicking off Hawthorne’s season, which includes 119 Thoroughbred and 39 harness programs.
Illinois tracks have sought slot machines for several years, since it became clear that revenue expected from a disused riverboat casino license is unlikely to materialize. In past sessions, however, legislation authorizing on-track slots has fallen victim to the Machiavellian infighting among factions of the state Democratic party.
This year, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is earnestly seeking new sources of funding to pay for health care reform, support for schools, transportation subsidies and long-delayed public employee pension payments. As he seeks revenue – and after his re-election last fall -- he has backed off his staunch opposition to expansion of gaming, saying he is willing to look at legislative proposals.
“Illinois racing, like any industry, deserves the chance to compete and be a national force,” Carey said. “I’m hopeful our legislators understand and agree with us.”