Illinois Horse Industry Fighting to Protect Casino Revenue

Legislators in Illinois have begun grumbling over riverboat casino legislation passed in 1999 that earmarks 15% of adjusted gross revenue from the state's 10th and final casino to the state's horse industry.

The Illinois Gaming Board last week named Isle of Capri Casinos the winning bidder for the state's final gaming license, and since that time legislators have questioned whether the horse industry should receive a cut of the business.

Cliff Goodrich, president of Arlington Park, said the law was enacted to help "level the playing field" between the horse industry and casinos. He said last year horse industry officials brought to the legislature a bill that would have eliminated the horse racing equity fund but in return allowed 1,000 video lottery terminals at the state's racetracks. It was never addressed after Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he would not agree to any gambling expansion.

"If there's a threat the (horse racing equity fund) will be taken away or capped at a level that would hurt the industry, then we prefer to stand on our own two feet by having our own machines," Goodrich said.

Estimates call for the 10th Illinois casino, which would be located in Rosemont, to pay $1.1 billion in gaming taxes over five years, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday. The cut for racetracks and purses, which would be divided evenly, would come out to about $390 million.

Sen. John Cullerton called the horse racing equity fund "absolutely outrageous" given the state's finances. "Economic times are so different," he told the newspaper. "It's ludicrous to think this would remain on the books...We in the General Assembly have got to change it."

Goodrich said it's now the horse industry's duty to educate legislators of the industry's economic impact on the state and what could happen without either the 15% cut of casino revenue or racetrack VLTs.

"We have spoken a little about it but now we are going to have to pick it up," Goodrich said. "We need to underscore the importance of this business and remind people how many jobs this provides."

Goodrich expects several bills addressing the issue to be filed during the current legislative session.