Fairmount Park Tax-Break Bill Sent to Governor

Legislation that would grant Fairmount Park a tax break worth almost $1.4 million a year has passed both houses of the Illinois legislature and awaits the signature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. If approved, the track could increase purses and racing dates, according to reports.

According to the bill, the current 1.5% tax on daily pari-mutuel handle would drop to 0.25% at a track located in a county that borders the Mississippi River. The only track that fits that description is Fairmount, which is located in southern Illinois just east of St. Louis, Mo.

The 0.25% pari-mutuel tax on bets at Fairmount and its inter-track wagering outlets would expire when and if another riverboat casino license--revenue from which would be earmarked for the horse racing industry--is awarded under the Riverboat Gambling Act.

A fiscal note attached to the bill indicates Fairmount would retain about $1.37 million a year in pari-mutuel taxes.

Fairmount, which this year will offer 90 days of Thoroughbred racing, raced more than twice that many days about five years ago, and also held a harness meet in the fall and winter. Last year, the track held 102 days of racing with daily average purses of $64,000.

Fairmount president Brian Zander told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch purses could increase 15% and the live season expanded should the governor sign the legislation. He also said some of the revenue would help provide insurance for workers.

A Blagojevich spokesman told the newspaper the governor would review the legislation.

Legislation that would have given the horse racing industry 3% of riverboat casino revenue stalled during the current session but could be revisited later this year. That bill, worth about $53 million to the industry, includes a provision for Fairmount, the only Illinois track with an extended pari-mutuel meet not located in the Chicago area.

Fairmount, open now through early September, is used by some horsemen for year-round training. Fairmount-based horses ship to tracks in the Chicago area, Indiana, and Kentucky to race.