ITHA reaches out to lawmakers, addresses potential sports betting bill

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: March 1, 2018

As the 2018 Thoroughbred racing season approaches, the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has been working with lawmakers at the state capitol to advocate for racing and breeding in the state.

Bills for sports betting already have been filed, and there’s always a chance a gambling expansion bill that includes racetrack gaming could be revisited. ITHA staff on a recent trip designed to underscore the industry’s support for jobs and agribusiness visited all 177 members of the Illinois General Assembly to present pamphlets packaged in a box with a miniature horse wearing the organization’s logo.

ITHA staff including Executive Director David McCaffrey, Office Director George Moreno and Horsemen’s Liaison Mena Perez were joined by ITHA directors Chris Block, Tom Fedro and Mickey Goldfine in the outreach effort.

During the spring legislative session, which concludes May 31, sports betting is expected to be addressed given the fact 16 states, according to the ITHA, are considering legislation. A decision by the United States Supreme Court in a case launched in part by the New Jersey THA is expected this spring, and numerous states are proactively taking action should the ruling ultimately reverse a federal ban on sports betting that began in 1992 with the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

Legislation introduced so far varies from state to state in many areas, including involvement by the horseracing industry. There are bills that would permit racetracks and off-track betting parlors to offer sports betting either on site of via mobile devices; a designated percentage of revenue that would go to support purses and breed development programs is a different story.

“The ITHA, in close concert with the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, is actively engaged in lobbying for a version of such legislation that will firmly protect the investment of horsemen, who, after all, support thousands of jobs at the tracks and throughout Illinois agribusiness,” the ITHA said in a release. “Specifically, we are advocating for language that would ensure an adequate portion of takeout on sports bets is directed to purses.”

The ITHA said the “striking similarity between wagering on football, basketball or another sporting event and betting on horse races” makes tracks and OTB facilities “the most logical venues for sports betting. By being proactive, we intend for the interests of the Illinois horse racing industry to be included in any bill that eventually passes.”

Meanwhile, ITHA President Mike Campbell said horses have begun shipping to Hawthorne, which recently converted its dirt surface after the winter Standardbred meet. The racing season is scheduled to begin March 30 and end April 28.

Hawthorne, according to a note in the first condition book, will offer shippers a $150 starter fee during the spring meet. Several turf races are listed as substitutes in the first book.

(Photo of legislative packet courtesy of ITHA)