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Hawthorne Race Course

Hawthorne Racecourse (2/20/07)

Contact: Joe Scurto (708) 780-3748
Bob Wolff (630) 325-2000 x224

HAWTHORNE RACE COURSE MAKES IT CLEAR:
ILLINOIS RACING NEEDS SLOTS TO COMPETE AND SURVIVE

CHICAGO – You see the stories every week. Various states are balancing budgets, funding programs and building developments with revenue newly generated from slot machines. Wagering at three Pennsylvania racetrack casinos surpassed $1 billion in the first 90 days of operation. Racetrack casinos in Florida and New York have performed strongly in their initial phases. Older, more established properties in other states and in Canada continue to perform up to or beyond expectations.

Illinois horse racing is caught in a downward spiral that will require action by state government to save it, says Hawthorne president and general manager Tim Carey and other Illinois track leaders. The sport has survived competition for entertainment dollars from the state-run lottery and riverboat gambling, but by law can’t offer slots. As Carey prepares for his track’s opening of the Chicago Thoroughbred season this Friday, he is hopeful state legislators understand what it will take to be competitive.

“In order to compete on a level playing field, the Illinois racing industry must have slot machines at the race tracks,” Carey said. “We used to compete with each other for dates. Now we compete with casinos and other racing jurisdictions with casinos. As a result, the business has suffered because we have lost horse owners, trainers, jockeys and drivers to other states. They left not only for a better opportunity to make a living, but mostly out of frustration due to the situation and lack of progress in Illinois. Many others have stayed here out of sheer loyalty, but you can’t pay the bills with loyalty.”

That is part of the message Carey will deliver to the Illinois horsemen who attend his opening day party. Although he has been at Hawthorne’s helm for only 18 months, Carey, 44, is no newcomer. He represents the fourth generation of the Carey family who has owned Illinois’ oldest racetrack since 1909. For decades, Illinois ranked third behind only California and New York in attendance and money bet. Ten tracks in Chicago and downstate offered a much-admired major and minor league circuit employing thousands of people year-round. Today, business is near rock bottom and only five tracks remain.

“I firmly believe we play a vital role in the state’s economy with horse racing in Illinois,” said Carey, whose initial involvement in racing came with the development of Hawthorne’s off-track betting parlors. “We have been a significant revenue generator for the state, supplying billions of tax dollars as an agribusiness. The legislature recognizes horse racing is in dire straits. To get Illinois healthy and back to where we once were, we must work with the legislature and get it done together so we can continue to be a major revenue source to the state of Illinois.”

Some states are experiencing budget shortfalls and looking at gaming as a solution. Illinois, as well as Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas are all considering privatizing the state lottery.

“The state of Illinois needs the money. The legislators recognized this before by mandating 15 percent of the revenues generated from the tenth casino license to be directed to Illinois racing. But that was years ago and the license still doesn’t belong to anyone so it hasn’t produced any revenue. Leasing the lottery may be part of the solution, but I think including the tracks as part of a bigger bill will make a significant difference and put Illinois racing back into a leadership position,” Carey said.

As Hawthorne prepares for 119 Thoroughbred and 39 harness live programs this year, Carey realizes 2007 is a crucial year.

“I think 2007 could be an awesome year, both racing-wise and legislatively. I’m confident that if the government does the right thing for racing, the purse structure will dramatically change. Once it begins, it will bode well for the breeding industry and the state. It takes a lot of work to build up a business, and it causes a lot of anguish to give up something you love and worked hard for all your life. Illinois racing, like any industry, deserves the chance to compete and be a national force. I’m hopeful our legislators understand and agree with us.”

Hawthorne Race Course is located at Cicero or Laramie Avenues at 35th Street. Gates open each day at 7 am. For more information call (708) 780-3700, or visit the Web site at www.hawthorneracecourse.com.

 

 

 

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