First Step Toward Cutbacks in Illinois Racing

The Illinois Racing Board on May 21 took the first, tentative step toward cutting back the state's racing schedule in light of a looming funding shortage and legislative inaction on corrective measures.

By unanimous vote, the IRB deferred until June a vote on approval of harness racing schedules for the Illinois State Fair at Springfield, the DuQuoin State Fair in Southern Illinois, and the Brown County Fair.

Chairman William Berry noted the Illinois General Assembly has not approved legislation that would renew authority for Advance Deposit Wagering. The old authorization expired Jan. 1 and ADW taxes are a primary source of funding for the IRB. Berry and board staff had said at the April meeting that racing dates will be trimmed if ADW is not approved.

With a May 31 adjournment deadline looming, the legislature also has not taken definitive action on a wider expansion of Illinois gaminga proposal that includes authorization of slot machines at race tracks.

A gaming expansion plan has passed the Illinois Senate but awaits substantial amendments in a House committee. ADW authorization has languished in a House committee since January.

Berry noted the fair races, particularly the state fair races, are favorites of politicians.

"I know this is something the governor enjoys," he said, referring to Gov. Pat Quinn, who vetoed two earlier gaming expansion plans.

Berry said the IRB will consider the fair applications at its June meeting if favorable legislation is forthcoming. Without it, he said, "It is quite possible we will not have the funds necessary for these critical operations."

Quickly to follow, board staff said earlier, would be dates at the state's Thoroughbred and harness tracks because the IRB would not have funding for testing, stewards, and other oversight operations.

The board met at Fairmount Park in Collinsville, Ill., across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

The decision to defer action on fair racing was ironic as the board also approved final distribution of remaining funds from the so-called "impact fee" levied years ago on the state's largest casinos. That money had been tied up for years by lawsuits brought by the casinos. Distribution of the final $2.4 million was delayed by suits filed by Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course.

While the bulk of the funding goes to Arlington, Hawthorne, Fairmount and the state's two harness tracks, split between operations and purses, some $288,000 was allocated to the fair programs.

The board also asked for input from tracks and horsemen on whether, how, and when to impose regulations on stall rent. A dispute over rental was at the center of a long contract dispute between horsemen and Arlington Park. While the two parties last month signed a new, two-year-contract, they did not disclose details of that pact and the IRB staff is proceeding with plans to promulgate regulations.

IRB executive director Marc Laino said horsemen and the Thoroughbred tracks have provided written input but none chose to testify at Tuesday's meeting.

"Undoubtedly, whatever we promulgate in rules will generate further testimony," Berry said.

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