IL Racing Gutted Unless Legislature Acts
by Bob Kieckhefer
Date Posted: 9/24/2013 5:02:32 PM
Last Updated: 9/30/2013 4:51:39 PM

Photo: Four Footed Fotos

The Illinois Racing Board approved four alternate schedules Sept. 24 for 2014 racing with legislative action–or inaction–left to determine which one is put into effect.

If the lawmakers, so far disinterested and indifferent to racing needs, do nothing, Chicago-area live racing will be slashed to just 64 dates from 190 this year. Arlington Park would run 49 programs and Hawthorne Race Course only 15. Fairmount Park, in downstate Collinsville, would run only 10 live programs, and harness racing would face similarly draconian cutbacks.

The IRB action results from legislative inaction on advance deposit wagering. Lawmakers let authorization for ADW expire for five months earlier this year, costing the IRB nearly $750,000 in tax revenue it uses to regulate the sport.

Worse, when it finally did approve ADW, the General Assembly did so only through this calendar year, leaving the IRB not only short of funds to regulate live racing for the remainder of the current fiscal year but also uncertain about its revenue stream for next fiscal year.

Worse still, the prospect of a massive cutback in live racing deepened divisions within the industry about how an ADW bill should be written, calling into question whether horsemen, tracks, and others can present a united front in Springfield.

"We implore the legislature that this action needs to be taken," IRB chairman William Berry said.

Which of the four schedules takes effect depends, Berry said, on whether the legislature provides at least $725,000 in supplemental funds to cover this year's ADW tax shortfall and/or extends ADW authorization on or before Jan. 31, 2014.

If both of those things happen, the 2014 schedule would look similar to the current one. Hawthorne would run 100 live programs from Feb. 21-April 27 and Oct. 1-Dec. 31; Arlington would run 89 live programs from April 28-Sept. 30; and Fairmount would run 52 live programs throughout the year.

"Schedule II" will be implemented if the legislature does not provide supplemental funding but does reauthorize ADW by Jan. 31. That plan would have Hawthorne running 81 live programs from Feb. 28-April 27, Oct. 1-Nov. 16, and Dec. 12-31; Arlington hosting 89 dates from April 28-Sept. 30; and Fairmount running 52 dates.

"Schedule III" goes into effect if the $725,000 in supplemental funds are provided but ADW is not reauthorized by Jan. 31. In that event, Hawthorne's schedule shrinks to 50 live programs from March 7-May 1 and Sept. 29-Nov. 30; Arlington's to 68 dates from May 2-Sept. 1; and Fairmount's to 19 programs.

If legislative inaction persists and "Schedule IV" takes effect, Hawthorne would be granted only 15 live racing programs, from Feb. 1-April 30 and Aug. 21-Sept. 20; Arlington would have 49 live programs from May 1- Aug. 20; and Fairmount would have just 10 live racing dates.

The motion to approve the "depends on" schedule was approved, 8-1, with Gregory Sronce of Springfield voting "nay."

"The fate of the industry is now in the hands of the legislature," Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said. "We have to determine whether we can remain in business."

Arlington was shuttered in 1998 and 1999 in a dispute over regulatory issues and other matters. At that time, the track was owned by Richard L. Duchossois and his family, who subsequently merged Arlington into Churchill Downs Inc.

"We have to explain to our board of directors, and to our shareholders, why they have to continue to put money into this operation," Petrillo said. "It's a very difficult conversation."

The board of directors of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, in a statement, said cuts in the schedule would have "drastic and likely irreversible consequences for horsemen, backstretch workers and their families, and the integrity of our sport."

But Illinois THA president Mike Campbell said his organization is reluctant to support an extension of the current ADW law, arguing it short-changes horsemen. After the dates order was approved, he said he is even more leery of supporting a bill, fearing horsemen could be totally cut out of ADW revenue under "Schedule IV."

"The horsemen are being used as leverage between the ADW companies and the tracks," Campbell said.

The legislature is due back in Springfield Oct. 22 for a brief "veto session" and could consider funding issues then. However, Illinois state government is deeply in debt, with billions of dollars in backlogged, unpaid bills and an unfunded public employee pension obligation of about $100 billion.

A legislative commission is working on a "fix" for the pension mess and, should it agree on a bill, that debate would dominate the short fall session.

Even if lawmakers focus on racing's problems and agree to divert $725,000 from other purposes to fund racing, Gov. Pat Quinn would have to approve that decision. Quinn twice has vetoed larger gaming expansion bills, saying the pension crisis must take priority over gaming and other issues.

Dissatisfaction over the dates order goes even deeper than the looming cutbacks. Even under "Schedule I," Arlington Park would not receive the "dark-day host" revenue it requested for the January and February months with no live racing.

Arlington had proposed to use that revenue to, among other things, install lights and conduct night racing similar to the successful "Downs after Dark" programs at Churchill Downs.

"Schedule I," in fact, would move three days of Arlington's 2013 "dark-day" allocation to Hawthorne.



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