Arguments heard in Illinois lawsuit regarding ‘recapture’ of purse money

Posted: June 24, 2018

Attorneys for Illinois horsemen and breeders recently presented arguments regarding litigation tied to restoration of purse funds siphoned off through recapture, a practice that began when the state authorized full-card simulcasts in the 1990s.

The Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation and Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association all joined forces on the litigation. They said a judge is expected to issue a decision on the case by late July.

“Our litigation is aimed at getting the purse accounts at all three tracks reimbursed for the approximate $11 million removed from them in 2017 (via recapture),” the groups said in a June 22 release. “If our suit is successful, the purse accounts would be made whole while the racetracks’ income would be unaffected. In short, it would be a win-win for the entire industry.”

Money taken via recapture is being used by tracks to “subsidize their own operations,” the groups said, noting that state law “clearly states the Illinois General Assembly ‘shall appropriate sufficient funds’ to reimburse the purse accounts for the amount of recapture taken.”

According to the release, the judge who is hearing the case had performed his own research on the Illinois Horse Racing Act and appeared to be concerned about the practical implications of the state’s failure to replenish purse accounts contrary to the purpose of the law. He also, however, questioned whether the language “shall appropriate” means lawmakers are required to make annual appropriations to purses because of recapture.

“Tracks rely on the statute when they sweep dollars from the horsemen’s purse accounts,” the groups said. “Horsemen and breeders are simply asking the court to ensure that the state also honors the law by making those accounts whole. We do not know at this point how the judge will rule in this case but we are encouraged that he is giving the arguments due consideration. We are positive about one thing: We must do everything we can to substantially increase purses.”

Based on Illinois Racing Board records, recapture began in 1996, when $4.2 million was taken from purse accounts to compensate tracks for a loss in live pari-mutuel handle because of full-card simulcasts. For most of the period from 1996-2017, it hovered between $13 million and $15 million a year for a total of more than $200 million.

More on recapture and the lawsuit is available here.

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