Illinois horsemen successful in legislative push for purse assistance

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: July 7, 2017

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association July 6 said persistent advocacy by horsemen’s groups during the recent state legislative session led to a $3.67 million increase in purses and owners’ awards through the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders Fund.

The amount approved by lawmakers through the Department of Agriculture is roughly double what’s usually approved on an annual basis, ITHA officials said.

Though the special legislative session—necessary to approve the state budget—ended July 6 without passage of an expanded gambling bill that has provisions for horse racing, receiving extra funds for purses and awards is viewed as a major accomplishment for the industry. Because the funds haven’t been approved the past two years because of the budget impasse, owners’ awards by law had to be paid from the regular purse account; that led to a decrease in overnight purses.

“Favorable outcomes in Springfield don’t just happen by accident; they happen as a result of proactive, focused and effective communication with lawmakers,” said David Block, a leading Illinois owner and breeder and a former director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation. “I’ve been following closely and the ITHA, together with the (Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association) and (Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association), made this a top priority during the entire session. Their work clearly paid off and Illinois breeders are grateful.”

The ITHA said the money from the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders Fund will be used to “dramatically increase purses” for horses conceived and foaled in Illinois or for Illinois-foaled stakes, and to pay owners’ awards for horses conceived and foaled in Illinois and for Illinois-foaled horses that finish first, second or third in open races with a minimum claiming price of $10,000.

The budget measure also provides $2.53 million from the Illinois Standardbred Breeders Fund for harness racing purses and awards.

Illinois purses don’t benefit from alternative gaming revenue, so even $3.67 million will have an impact. According to ITHA statistics, purses for the first 20 days of the Arlington Park meet averaged $173,104 per day, which includes $12,894 per day for owners’ awards. For 22 days of live racing at Hawthorne Race Course earlier this year, purses averaged $119,501 per program, including an average of $8,932 that went to owners’ awards.

Through those 42 days of racing, more than $2 million in purse money was given to the tracks under the simulcast “recapture” law that compensates tracks for declines in live pari-mutuel handle.

The ITHA, IHHA and ILHBPA, which collaborated during the 2017 legislation session, continued to lobby for things such as racetrack gaming and elimination of the recapture of simulcast revenue. But they also expanded their agenda in talks with lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“Instead of focusing solely on gaming issues, as others appeared to do, our three groups recognized the utility—with the state’s budget impasse ongoing—of pursuing other opportunities to help bring relief to our industry,” ITHA officials said. “The ITHA is grateful for continued interest and support from state legislators of both parties and chambers of the General Assembly, and we also appreciate the governor’s interest in the horseracing industry and its associated agribusiness jobs.”

“While Republicans largely had issues with the overall budget, many of us support the line item for owner awards, and I want to acknowledge the effective advocacy of the three Illinois horsemen groups—ITHA, IHHA and ILHBPA—in getting those sums restored,” said Sen. Chapin Rose, an assistant Republican leader.

Said House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang, a Democrat: “The ITHA, IHHA and ILHBPA worked all session to restore funding for owner awards, and I am pleased to say that the lobbying efforts of Illinois’ three horsemen groups paid off in the final appropriation for the Department of Agriculture.”

The ITHA said passage of racetrack gaming legislation and elimination of recapture remain its “chief legislative priority” moving forward.

(Photo courtesy of ilstatehouse.com)