Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (3/29/13)
Track Can't Roll ITHA at Capitol or in Contract Negotiations
Arlington Trying to Shut Horsemen Out
Arlington Park is poised to swiftly transform itself into a casino-style gaming empire, leaving the horsemen - and the more than 35,000 jobs in Illinois agriculture that we support - withering on the vine. The track is desperate to neutralize the ITHA because we stand up for the interests of horsemen and threaten to impede that pursuit.
At the Illinois Capitol, Arlington is backing legislation that would authorize Arlington and other tracks to offer Internet-based casino games. Under that measure, Senate Bill 1739, Arlington would not share a dime with purses; this new and potentially massive source of revenue would provide zero benefit to the trainers, owners, breeders, jockeys and backstretch workers who actually make horse racing possible, and whose work justifies the track's existence.
The ITHA is fighting back.
Also this year, Arlington authorized itself to charge stall rent from horsemen during live racing. Other Churchill Downs Inc. tracks have imposed rent on stalls during dark time, but Arlington's rent plan marks the first time in the history of Thoroughbred horse racing nationwide that horsemen may be forced to pay stall rent during live racing. Arlington is a subsidiary of CDI.
The ITHA is fighting back.
Last December, in its desperation to undercut the ITHA's influence, Arlington even attempted - by its own admission - to remove me as ITHA president when I ran for re-election. I was overwhelmingly re-elected ITHA president. Arlington's effort failed.
Now comes word that Dick Duchossois, Arlington's Chairman, has invited the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation to represent horsemen at Arlington Park, even as Arlington is renegotiating the ITHA's contract to represent those same horsemen (both parties have agreed to mediation).
The ITHA has a longstanding, respectful relationship with the ITBOF. Illinois Thoroughbred breeders are vital to this industry. They supply the equine athletes necessary for our sport.
But the ITHA, which counts nearly 2,500 members, has represented the horse trainers and owners at Arlington and Hawthorne Race Course for decades. As Arlington has pushed to focus on casino-style gaming, the ITHA has consistently fought to protect and enhance the purses that horsemen race to win.
Arlington knows the ITHA is stronger than it was in 1995, when the tracks persuaded lawmakers to authorize the state's infamous recapture subsidy. Under that law, the purse compensates Arlington and other Illinois tracks for the loss in live handle related to simulcasting their races across the globe. When the tracks lose money, the horsemen pay this bill.
In 2013 alone, Arlington will enjoy an estimated $4.1 million recapture subsidy - dollars that flow directly from the purse at a rate of $46,000 a day.
By attempting to recruit the ITBOF to replace the ITHA as the organization representing horsemen at Arlington, the track's intentions are clear: silence the strongest voice - both at the Capitol and at the track - that is dedicated to ensuring a vibrant future for Illinois horse racing, the state's thoroughbred breeding industry, and all the jobs that horsemen support.
Arlington knows the ITHA poses the greatest challenge to its effort to capitalize on Internet gaming - a potentially massive windfall - and not share a dime with the purse account. By working to neutralize the ITHA at the Capitol, Arlington apparently is determined to stunt horsemen's influence over SB 1739 - or any other bill that would benefit horsemen to the detriment of CDI's bottom line.
Amazingly, Arlington General Manager Tony Petrillo issued a statement Tuesday saying that "with the competition for horses from other states and with the continual decline of the horse population it is necessary at this time to do everything thing [sic] we can to increase field size, increase handle and increase purses."
Yes, that sums up the predicament of Illinois horse racing. Illinois horse racing has struggled for years to compete against horse racing in other states, which allow their tracks to offer casino-style gaming to supplement purses. By enhancing purses, those states make horse racing more competitive. They attract horsemen to race, grow the breeding industry, and support thousands of jobs in agriculture.
Saving horse racing, preserving jobs, and supporting Illinois agriculture is the entire point of allowing tracks to offer slot machines or offer other casino-style games online. When this revenue supports purses, Illinois horse racing will more adequately compete against racing in other states. And when horsemen stay and race in Illinois, they support not just the people who will directly lose out if the legislation is not changed, but also more than 35,000 jobs throughout the Illinois ag economy, from veterinarians to feed and hay suppliers.
Arlington, however, is not acting to protect the future of Illinois horse racing. Under the Internet gaming legislation that Arlington supports, Arlington would share nothing with purses. And by insisting on the authority to charge stall rent, Arlington threatens to discourage all but the wealthiest horsemen from competing at its facility.
Where is Arlington's dedication to horse racing and the Illinois ag economy? Unless SB 1739 is amended to require Arlington to share revenue with purses, the proposal threatens to radically diminish Illinois horseracing and, in the process, cost thousands of middle class and lower-income workers their jobs, harming the best interests of the state of Illinois and its taxpayers.
Arlington can try to block horsemen from sharing its Internet gaming jackpot. It can incrementally drive up the cost of working there to attract only the wealthiest horsemen to compete there. And it can try to crush the one organization standing in its way.
The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association is proud to play David to Arlington's Goliath. At the tracks and at the state Capitol, we will continue to advocate for the interests of the hard-working men and women who make horse racing possible. Our membership will fight for continued racing opportunities, even as Arlington appears intent on constricting them, and we will fight to protect and enhance purses, even as Arlington works to shut us out.
To ensure you're receiving ITHA updates on this and other critical matters, send your contact information - name, phone, email address and postal address - to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also see news updates posted at itharacing.com.
Mike Campbell, ITHA President