Illinois Budget Woes Bring About Purse Cuts

Illinois racing took a multimillion-dollar hit as Gov. George Ryan sliced up this year's overall state appropriations bill to deal with a budget crisis. Among the items cut by Ryan was money for the "recapture" of purse money.

The "recapture" was instituted to deal with reduced handle on live races because of full-card simulcasting. Arlington Park chief executive officer Steve Sexton said Arlington will lose about $3.7 million as a result of the governor's action.

Thomas Carey III of Hawthorne Race Course said his track will lose about $2.2 million for Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing. And Charles Bidwill III said National Jockey Club racing at Sportsman's Park will lose $3.6 million in purse money.

All three track executives said they will lobby the Illinois General Assembly to restore the money, but none seemed optimistic about the prospects. Arlington quickly negotiated with horsemen to limit purse increases during its mid-season "festival of racing" but still faces an out-of-pocket shortfall of nearly $2 million.

Joe Kasperski, head of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said he hopes good news on other fronts--including a deal to get a new, revenue-producing riverboat casino up and operating--can generate enough revenue to more than offset the recapture funds.

Meanwhile, Illinois racing may have found a friend in Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Blagojevich. The Chicago congressman, leading in the early polls, spoke June 28 at a fund-raising reception at Hawthorne Race Course hosted by officials of Hawthorne and Sportsman's Park.

Blagojevich said he has learned through his campaign travels around Illinois that while racing is concentrated in the Chicago area, it has a significant impact on jobs and on agribusiness statewide.

"The health of horse racing in the Chicago area has implications all over the state of Illinois," Blagojevich said. "I want to be governor for 10,000 reasons--one of them would be to help the horse racing industry in Illinois."

Arlington Park did not participate in the fund-raiser. Arlington officials said they will continue to "educate" both Blagojevich and his Republican opponent, Attorney General Jim Ryan, about horse racing.