Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (2/16)
By Michael Campbell, ITHA President
The 2012 regular Illinois legislative session is now underway and as of mid-February there already is significant activity taking shape around gaming expansion. Clearly both the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago need the new revenues that would come with enactment of a gaming expansion bill. Assistance to the horse racing industry remains an essential component to all gaming-related discussions and proposals.
As all ITHA members well know, the form that assistance will take remains a central point of discussion. While the ITHA remains staunchly behind SLOTS AT TRACKS the horsemen continue to meet with and work in good faith with the Governor’s staff and other stakeholders to find a solution to the gaming bill.
Stakeholder discussions are being moderated by the principal sponsors of prior gaming expansion proposals, Senator Terry Link (D. Waukegan) and Rep. Lou Lang (D. Skokie), together with Gary Hanning, Legislative Affairs Director for Governor Pat Quinn. On February 8 the ITHA team (President Mike Campbell, Executive Director Glen Berman, board member Chris Block, and our lobbyist Steve Morrill) joined more than 60 other stakeholder representatives at the most recent Link-Lang-Hanning meeting.
There are two possible avenues to assist the horse racing industry, and thereby preserve the tens of thousands of agri-business jobs associated with our sport: first, slots-at-tracks; and second, an ongoing subsidy financed through an assessment on the casino gaming industry. Presently an impasse exists to make either scenario work.
Slots-at-tracks represent a PERMANENT SOLUTION that allows the horse racing industry to be self-reliant. It does not suffer from the uncertainly of the annual appropriation process, and would be far more difficult for a future General Assembly to repeal or diminish. The casinos oppose this approach and for now Governor Quinn shares their view. However, the Governor is strongly committed to supporting Illinois horsemen, and if the casinos persist in opposing any meaningful subsidy proposal, it is possible that the Governor may revisit the opposition to slots-at-tracks.
To garner support from horsemen interests, any subsidy proposal would need to satisfy the three objectives achieved in earlier slots-at-tracks proposals: at least $100 million annually to purses, adjusted upward over time to account for inflation; immediate elimination of recapture; and strong live racing guarantees. Details would need to be worked out to assure that subsidies to purses remain outside the state treasury, and thereby not subject to annual appropriation, with the subsidy arrangements being matters of contract and not merely laws that could be subject to later repeal or amendment. Presently the casinos are unwilling to commit to any subsidy – other than one financed by assessments only on future casinos – so the discussion has not progressed to further details.
Two weeks ago, ITHA and the other Illinois horsemen groups met alone with Gary Hanning. He understands our needs, and echoes the Governor’s view that assisting Illinois horsemen remains a vital component to any gaming expansion proposal. The Governor and Hanning clearly understand that the desired preservation of agri-business jobs and economic activity associated with horse racing is a function of better financed purses in Illinois.
Clearly something needs to give: either the casinos must come to support a meaningful subsidy, with all details worked out for a long-term solution, or the Governor must evolve a new view on slots-at-tracks if the casinos continue their current objection to any workable subsidy proposal.
All the while, a growing need for new revenues by both the State of Illinois and City of Chicago puts pressure on getting a deal done. That budgetary pressure means that something simply must happen soon – the State and City cannot afford to go without new gaming-related revenues much longer.
At the close of the recent Link-Lang-Hanning meeting, a new phase of discussion was announced. Specifically, Link, Lang and Hanning will begin meeting separately with the casino and horse racing interests, in an effort to break the current impasse. The stakes are growing for the casinos. Should they persist in not participating in a meaningful subsidy solution, they risk losing a legislative will to explore the subsidy avenue. They also risk losing the Governor, who with a shift in direction to favor slots-at-tracks could bring immediate financial relief to a state government in dire straits, and no doubt strengthen his relationship with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who strongly wants his own casino to shore up Chicago’s finances.
More and more it appears that budgetary realities and the revenues that will flow to both Illinois and Chicago, make gaming expansion a necessity this year. ITHA will work tirelessly on behalf of Thoroughbred horsemen to help ensure the outcome satisfies our needs, and preserves the tens of thousands of agri-business jobs we represent. To succeed, we will continue to need your active support, including ongoing communications with your state legislators. ITHA will soon begin a direct mail campaign designed as an outreach to our membership requesting owners, breeders and trainers to meet with your district legislators in a renewed effort to inform them of our critical needs. The Governor’s office is making every effort to engage stakeholders on the gaming bill, but as horseman we must continue our support of a gaming bill that includes REVENUE TO PURSES, ELIMINATION OF RECAPTURE, AND LIVE RACING GUARANTEES.
Michael B. Campbell
President, Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association
Serving the Finest People We Know, The Horsemen of Illinois