Hawthorne agrees to forgo purse recapture; ITHA asks Arlington to do the same

Posted: May 21, 2020

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association May 21 issued the following statement regarding a decision by Hawthorne Race Course to forgo almost $3.4 million in recapture funds and call for Arlington Park to do the same.

Hawthorne Race Course has agreed to forgo the taking of “recapture” from the horsemen’s purse account in order to substantially improve the quality of overnight purses, and help ensure the continuation of live Thoroughbred racing, this year.

That means $3.397 million will stay in the Thoroughbred horsemen’s purse account at Hawthorne this year and will, as such, remain dedicated to purses. That’s another $3.397 million, in addition to any other funds earned for the purse account as a percentage of handle, that will support trainers, backstretch workers and the other working men and women whose livelihood is directly linked to live racing.

It also means that Arlington Park now stands alone in Chicago-area Thoroughbred racing in its determination to drain the horsemen’s purse account by taking purse dollars for itself. Funds earned for purses should, without question, remain in the purse account and be used to support purses. If Arlington parent company Churchill Downs Inc. follows through on its stated plan to take $4.5 million from the purse account at Arlington, overnight purses—and the jobs that depend on them—will be devastated.

If instead Arlington followed Hawthorne’s lead on recapture, that $4.5 million would be available for purses—more than doubling the sum that horsemen could race for this summer. Purses averaging $90,000 per day over a 30-day meet, for example, would increase to approximately $240,000 per day.

“Hawthorne’s bold move to defer recapture gives us a degree of optimism, in this deeply troubling time, for the future of our sport and industry,” ITHA President Mike Campbell said. “We are grateful to Tim Carey and his management team for taking this critical step to help ensure the continuation of live racing and support for local jobs. The contrast with Churchill Downs, which has repeatedly manipulated and even ignored Illinois law to serve its own bottom line, is clear.”

Recapture is an antiquated provision of state law that permits a track in Illinois to take for itself dollars from the horsemen’s purse account. This necessarily reduces the funds available for a track to award in the form of purses and, particularly in recent years with our industry facing myriad challenges, the practice has become an albatross of live racing. Illinois lawmakers, recognizing the deleterious effect of recapture, moved to abolish the practice as part of the gaming expansion law approved last year. However, recapture is terminated under the new law only after a track begins deriving revenue from a casino operation tied to the track.

CDI, which disappointed elected officials and the Illinois racing community last summer by declining to apply for the license to operate a casino at Arlington, could conceivably continue taking recapture indefinitely—to the detriment of Illinois jobs and the best interests of the state’s taxpayers.

Arlington has yet to agree to a contract for the 2020 meet. And CDI is determined to maximize its taking of funds from the purse account at Arlington—$4.5 million—this year, notwithstanding the horrendous consequences for live racing and Illinois jobs. Indeed, Arlington’s targeted recapture amount is roughly equivalent to the total funds earned by the purse account since the conclusion of Arlington’s meet last year.

When CDI removes the full $4.5 million from the purse account, the purse levels at any Arlington meet this summer will depend solely on dollars earned by the purse account thereafter – a period of time during which the purse account is expected to see only modest earnings.

The ITHA has repeatedly urged CDI to forgo the taking of recapture this year. In the best interest of our sport and industry, CDI should leave that $4.5 million in the purse account; agree to a contract for the 2020 meet at Arlington that will provide adequate overnight purse levels; unequivocally commit to host the meet even if it must proceed without spectators; and let Illinoisans go to work and produce a schedule of live racing this summer at Arlington.

CDI does not need an Arlington contract with the ITHA to publicly declare that it will abandon recapture. In fact, an announcement by CDI that it will defer recapture would be a demonstration of a good faith effort to bolster our sport and industry and all the small businesses and workers whose livelihood depends on live racing. It also would set the stage for an agreement on the terms of a contract for the Arlington 2020 meet.

If ever there were a time for CDI to emulate Hawthorne’s leadership and show a commitment to live racing, it is now.