Illinois horsemen’s groups file lawsuit over recapture provision

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Nov. 9, 2017

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and two other horsemen’s groups have filed a lawsuit to order the Illinois Comptroller to reimburse purse accounts that have lost money due to “recapture.”

The suit, filed Nov. 1 in Cook County Circuit Court, lists as plaintiffs the ITHA, Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and ITHA President Mike Campbell in his capacity as an owner. Susana Mendoza, the state Comptroller, is listed as the defendant.

The recapture provision in the law that authorized full-card simulcasts in the 1990s shifts purse money to racetracks to compensate for lost revenue due to declines in on-track pari-mutuel handle on live races at Illinois tracks. Statistics from the Illinois Racing Board annual report indicated recapture amounted to about $273 million from 1995-2016.

“Due to recapture, a law unique to horse racing in Illinois, purses are substantially depleted each year when tracks are allowed to remove dollars from the purse accounts,” the ITHA said. “The same law permitting the tracks to collect those purse dollars, however, also requires the state to reimburse the purse accounts in amounts equal to the sums swept away by the tracks.

“However, the state is not honoring its commitment to make the purse accounts whole. For more than 14 years, Illinois lawmakers have failed to appropriate funds to reimburse the purse accounts as required by law. We are asking a judge to order the Illinois comptroller to pay to the Thoroughbred and Standardbred purse accounts all amounts that the Illinois Racing Board has certified for the tracks to take from those accounts.”

The horsemen’s groups, which for years have pushed for an end to recapture, noted Illinois racing is at a competitive disadvantage with racing in other states in which gaming revenue is used to supplement purses and breed development programs.

The Illinois government’s “failure to replenish the purse accounts deepens our competitive disadvantage by reducing the size of purses,” the ITHA said. “It is exacerbating the collapse of our industry and undermining the vital role our sport plays in promoting tourism and supporting local jobs at the tracks and across agribusiness.

“Enforcing the law and requiring the state to replenish the purse accounts is the singular act that can quickly improve Illinois purses and stop the exodus of jobs from Illinois racing.”

According to the IRB statistics, recapture at Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course combined has totaled more than $122 million from 1995-2016. For 2017, the IRB approved the recapture of about $11 million in purse money at four tracks in the state.

The suit states the General Assembly never appropriated the $11 million from the General Revenue Fund for payment into the purse accounts, nor did the defendant order payment of the funds. “The General Assembly’s failure to appropriate these funds, and/or the Defendant’s failure to order payment of these funds, is both illegal and in express violation of the (Illinois Horse Racing Act),” the suit says.

The lawsuit is available here.

(Hawthorne Race Course photo courtesy of ITHA)