Bill Would Give Illinois Racing More Than $50 Million a Year

Legislation that would funnel more than $50 million a year to the Illinois racing industry cleared a House committee March 1, but it failed to win enough support after a third reading March 3.

Democratic Rep. Robert Molaro, who sponsored the bill, indicated the legislation could be revisited.

The bill, which when introduced last year was designed to amend the Bingo License and Tax Act, has been amended multiple times. Its current language calls for the state's riverboat casinos to pay 3% of their adjusted gross revenue to the Horse Racing Equity Trust Fund. That payment would amount to $53 million a year for horse racing, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill.

The bill says "total purses in the state may increase by 50%, helping Illinois tracks to better compete with those in other states. Illinois currently ranks 13th nationally in terms of its purse size; the change would propel the state to second or third."

The legislation also noted that from 1992, the first full year of riverboat operations, to 2005, total on-track handle at Illinois racetracks fell from $835 million to $482 million. The measure says the Illinois horse racing and breeding industry is valued at $2.5 billion.

The bill breaks down the riverboat casino contribution as follows: 60% would go to purses and 40% to racetrack operators. Of the 60%, Thoroughbred racing would get 57% and Standardbred racing 43%. Purse money would be allocated according to a formula at each track.

Of the 40% to racetrack operators, 89% would be distributed according to the aggregate proportion of total handle on live racing for 2004 and 2005 to Thoroughbred and harness tracks in the Chicago market. The remaining 11% would go to Fairmount Park, a Thoroughbred track in southern Illinois.

Illinois tracks in recent years have tried unsuccessfully to win approval to install slot machines. In addition, plans for a new casino that would produce some revenue for racing have stalled.