IL Racing Threatened by Legislative Stalling

by Bob Kieckhefer

Illinois racing dates may be vacated and laboratory operations curtailed if the state legislature does not quickly reauthorize advance deposit wagering, Illinois Racing Board officials said April 30.

ADW legislation expired Jan. 1 and has not been renewed while other gaming issues are in play in the Capitol. Taxes from ADW are a primary source of funding for the IRB.

"We're in deep trouble at this point," IRB executive director Mark Laino said. "We do have to consider some contingency plans. We may be forced to curtail operations, vacate racing days, and curtail laboratory operations. We are at a critical point."

Laino said the board is losing $175,000 per month in funding expected from ADW taxes and expects to be operating at a deficit as early as July. Lacking a reauthorization of ADW, the only other potential source of funding for the board would be a supplemental appropriation from the General Revenue Fund, which is unlikely.

Two bills that would reauthorize ADW have been stalled in the Illinois House of Representatives since early in the current session.

IRB chairman William Berry said he was "mystified" by the delay in voting on ADW. "I do not have answers and I should have them. It's time to take a vote on it. At least give us ADW immediately."

Senate sponsors are expected to introduce compromise amendments to a much wider gaming expansion bill that includes authorization of slot machines at racetracks. It is widely assumed that legislative leaders do not want to move forward with any racing or gaming legislation until an overall agreement is reached.

The ADW flap overshadowed announcement of a two-year agreement between the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and Arlington Park. The deal ended a long and bitter feud that began with flap over Arlington's plans to charge stall rent for horses that trained but did not run at the track. It escalated to an Internet and e-mail war of words.

As charges flew back and forth, the disagreement expanded to attacks by Arlington on Illinois THA spending practices and charges by the horsemen's group that Arlington management was trying to take control of Internet gaming in Illinois while cutting horsemen out of that revenue stream. Arlington escalated the battle in March by reaching out to the Illinois Breeders and Owners Foundation with a contract offer that would have replaced the Illinois THA as bargaining agent at the track.

Had the dispute not been resolved, many horsemen likely would have boycotted the entry box for the Arlington meet slated to start May 3, and horsemen's groups in Illinois and Kentucky could have blocked Arlington from taking the signal from Churchill Downs, which will run the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (both gr. I) May 3 and May 4, respectively.

Details of the agreement were not announced. But both sides agreed the two-year term is important as they now can turn their attention to the pending legislation.

The Illinois General Assembly twice has passed gaming expansion bills only to have them vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn. Hawthorne Race Course president Tim Carey said in April he is encouraged about chances for final approval of legislation because Quinn's office now is helping develop language the governor would accept.

Berry said resolution of the Arlington dispute and movement on potential changes in stall rental rules are good signs. "We hope this will be part of a whole new era of racing in Illinois if the legislators realize the opportunity available to them," he said.

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