ITHA outlines pending legislation that could boost purses

Posted: June 2, 2017

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association said it has made “great progress” in regard to racing-related bills during the regular legislative session that ended May 31.

The Senate and House of Representatives remain in continuous session and could, at any time, reconvene for the purpose of considering a budget or other legislation, the ITHA said June 2. The House plans to hold budget-related hearings beginning June 8, and gambling measures figure to be part of the discussion.

“To be sure, we have a ways to go before achieving sound and comprehensive racing policy that will establish the strongest foundation for the future of Illinois Thoroughbred horse racing while also maximizing our industry’s value for the state’s taxpayers,” ITHA officials said.

The Senate approved measures pertaining to Internet gaming, slot machines at racetracks, and purse assistance from the Illinois Racing Board, but the House has not yet taken action on any of them.

“Moreover, the impasse between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative Democrats—now approaching its third year—is ongoing,” the horsemen’s group said. “While inaction on a state budget has captured the most public attention, the impasse also has impeded agreement on a gaming expansion bill or on any number of other major policy considerations pending at the Capitol.

“It remains to be seen when the governor and lawmakers of both the Senate and House might reach consensus on a budget, the final terms of gaming legislation, or related matters.”

ITHA President Mike Campbell and ITHA Executive Director David McCaffrey provided an overview to members that is as follows:

Purse support from Internet gaming

The Senate approved 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 and other horsemen’s associations, the bill firmly positions the ITHA to negotiate with Arlington Park, Hawthorne Race Course and/or the ADW providers to ensure they deposit a fair percentage of iGaming revenue in purses.

The bill (BH 479), as originally conceived, would have required no sharing with purses.

Purse support from the IRB budget

The Senate advanced a measure that would allow the IRB to transfer $500,000 from its own budget to purses. The proposal represents an agreement between the state’s three horsemen’s associations—the ITHA, Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association and Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association—and the IRB concerning the most appropriate terms for transferring any dollars from the IRB to purses. It is included in broader legislation (SB 6) that deals with appropriation measures and represents the framework of the Senate Democrats’ budget plan.

Slots at racetracks to support purses

The Senate also backed gaming expansion legislation that would permit slots at tracks for the purpose of enhancing purses. If the measure is approved and signed into law, Illinois racing will again compete with tracks in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and other states already using gaming revenue to boost purses.

The measure (SB 7) reflects our priorities: favorable rates to support purses, guaranteed minimum live racing opportunities, and immediate elimination of recapture.

Arlington Park is lobbying lawmakers to authorize table games for tracks—in addition to slots—as part of the bill. So long as tracks are required to share a fair and agreed percentage of that revenue with purses, we would support such an amendment.

Video gaming terminals at tracks and off-track betting facilities

Separately, a House committee advanced to the House floor a bill to allow 150 VGTs at each track and five VGTs at each OTB as an interim way to support purses while we await passage of the “big gaming bill.” That measure (HB 2877) remains pending on the House floor as the General Assembly enters its overtime session.

“Thank you, Illinois owners and trainers, for your tremendous support and advocacy,” Campbell and McCaffrey said in their memo. “We are all frustrated with the continued delays, but we must stay focused, organized and vigilant if we are to be ultimately successful.”

(ITHA photo)