Illinois Horsemen to Sue over Recapture Money

Attorneys for the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (ITHA) will file for an injunction in the next few days to stop the "recapture" payment made annually to the state's racetracks from the horsemen's purse fund since 1995.

ITHA executive director Don Fritz said the lawsuit could be filed as early as Friday and would be before a judge by next week. The action comes after the Illinois Racing Board certified this year's recapture payment of $15-million during its meeting on Tuesday.

In previous years, horsemen were reimbursed the payment through the state's general fund. But with a budget deficit facing Illinois, Gov. George Ryan last year eliminated the payment.

Racing board spokesperson Mickey Ezzo said the board is required by law to certify the payment by Jan. 31. The ITHA asked the board to prohibit racetracks from deducting money from the purse account because the law does not allow for payments to be made until the appropriation has been made from the state. The motion was denied.

"It's a tough situation and we acknowledge recapture effects horsemen significantly," Ezzo said. "But there isn't going to be an appropriation and we have an obligation from the state to certify by Jan. 31."

The recapture legislation was passed by the state to help local racetracks recoup losses stemming from the introduction of full-card simulcasting in 1994. The first year, $4,234,922 was paid to tracks from the purse account. This year the payment has ballooned to $15,489,017 and there will be no appropriation as in previous years from the Department of Agriculture.

Fritz said the lawsuit will be filed because of the organization's differing interpretation of the law.

"We're contending tracks should not be able to take money out of purse accounts until the disbursement has been made," Fritz said. "Twice in the past racing board executive director's have agreed with that so we believe there has been a precedent set. We feel a court of law will interpret it more to our liking."

Standardbred horemen have been boycotting the entry box at Maywood and Balmoral Park since the start of the year because of the issue, but Fritz indicated it is highly unlikely Thoroughbred horsemen would take similar action.

"I always see things working out, so there has to be some kind of compromise, " Fritz said. He added Horsemen will meet with track representatives the first week of February with hopes of striking a deal. Fritz said his organization will offer tracks "two or three alternatives," which he did not specify.