Illinois THA on alert as special legislative session begins

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: June 21, 2017

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association said it will be regularly monitoring the special legislative session that begins June 21 and includes several bills that could positively impact revenue for horse racing in the state.

ITHA officials noted state government is heading toward a third straight year without a comprehensive budget. The fiscal year begins July 1; the special session is expected to span 10 days through June 30.

“It is not clear whether lawmakers might act on measures pertaining to Illinois Thoroughbred horse racing,” the ITHA said. “The leadership, staff and lobbying team of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association continue to impress upon lawmakers the urgent necessity of approving legislation to enable significantly improved Thoroughbred purses at this state’s tracks.”

Before the regular session ended May 31, the Senate approved three bills related to Internet gaming, purse supplements from the Illinois Racing Board, and racetrack slot machines. The House of Representatives failed to act on those measures but a House committee did send a different bill to the floor for consideration.

The House bill (HB 2877) would permit 150 video gaming terminals at racetracks and five machines at off-track betting parlors to serve as a way to bridge the gap until broader legislation—racetrack slots are part of the omnibus bill—is passed. The committee passed the bill after adopting an amendment that increased the amount of revenue that would go to purses from VGTs to 50% from 47% unless recognized horsemen’s groups agree to a different distribution.

The ITHA offered the following analysis of the three measures that have passed the Senate.

Gaming Bill: Slots at Tracks to Support Purses

Senators this spring backed gaming expansion legislation (SB 7) that would permit slots at tracks for the purpose of enhancing purses. The House May 31 referred the bill to its Rules Committee–a procedural move that occurred automatically because the bill didn’t reach final action by the end of session. However, gaming expansion legislation could take the form of another bill.

Arlington Park is lobbying lawmakers to authorize table games for tracks, in addition to slots, as part of this proposal—an addition we would wholeheartedly support so long as the tracks agree to share the benefits of that revenue under terms acceptable to horsemen.

Purse Support from Internet Gaming

The House may consider whether to concur with Senate amendments to legislation to authorize each track and advance deposit wagering provider in Illinois to apply for a license to operate Internet gaming. As a result of advocacy by the ITHA, Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association and Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the bill firmly positions horsemen to negotiate with Arlington Park, Hawthorne Race Course, Fairmount Park and/or their respective ADW providers to ensure they deposit a fair percentage of iGaming revenue in purse accounts.

The bill (HB 479), as originally conceived, would have required no sharing with purses. The Senate approved the bill as amended; if the House concurs, the bill would then head to Gov. Rauner for consideration.

Purse Support from Illinois Racing Board Budget

The Senate also advanced a measure that would allow the IRB to transfer $500,000 from its own budget into purses. The proposal represents an agreement between the state’s three horsemen’s associations—the ITHA, IHHA and ILHBPA—and IRB officials concerning the most appropriate terms for transferring any dollars from the IRB to purses.

It is included in legislation (SB 6) that contains myriad other appropriation measures and represents the framework of the Senate Democrats’ budget plan. It is unclear whether the bill may advance or whether lawmakers will choose to instead move budget-related measures in a separate bill.

(Photo courtesy of ilstatehouse.com)