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Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (5/1/14)

May marks the start of Arlington's meet, home stretch of spring legislative session


Update from Mike Campbell,

President of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Dear Fellow Horsemen:

May marks the start of Arlington Park's meet and we're reminded of Illinois horse racing's grandeur. Arlington is a great monument to American horse racing with its futuristic and modern grandstand. The fan base takes a genuine interest in the horses, against the backdrop of an internationally acclaimed turf track. Families come for the day and enjoy the sport of horse racing - it's a family oriented experience.

Yet as we admire Arlington's aesthetics, we're also reminded of the steep challenge we face in competing against horse racing in other states. Imagine racing in May at Arlington - and at our state's other Thoroughbred tracks around the year - when slots at tracks are online and actively boosting purses. Field sizes will grow. More fans will be in the stands. Our breeding program will be invigorated.

The month of May also means the final stretch of the legislative session in Springfield is upon us, with adjournment on May 31. Just as we have in recent years, the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association is vigorously lobbying Illinois lawmakers to approve the slots at tracks legislation that we negotiated together with Arlington, Hawthorne Racecourse, and other racing stakeholders.

Illinois horsemen are proud to lead the push to allow slots at tracks as a means to enhance purses, guarantee minimum racing opportunities, and abolish the egregious recapture subsidy continually depressing the size of our purses.

Consider the experience in New York, where slots at tracks went online in 2011:

  • Breeder awards jumped from $6.35 million in 2011 to $9.5 million in 2012 and $11.26 million in 2013.
  • Stallion awards jumped from $1.33 million in 2011 to $2.2 million in 2012 and $2.79 million in 2013.
  • Open-company owner awards jumped from $993,323 in 2011 to $1.2 million in 2012 and $1.79 million in 2013.

And lest anyone think that slots may become a substitute for, or even a deterrent to, live racing, there is clear evidence that live racing drives the interest in slots at tracks. According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, average daily gross terminal revenue generated from slot machine gaming at the state's six racinos was "16% higher on race days when compared to non-race days in 2013." Live racing - not slot machines alone - drives patrons to the tracks.

Lawmakers are continuing to deliberate the exact terms of any gaming expansion bill for consideration in Springfield this month. The ITHA, together with other industry stakeholders, have remained steadfast in our support for the previously agreed language, which reflects the "Three Rs":

  • Agreed rates to support purses.
  • Guaranteed live racing opportunities.
  • Elimination of recapture. (In 2013 alone, Arlington enjoyed a $4.2 million recapture subsidy - dollars taken from horsemen purses at a rate of more than $46,000 a day. Hawthorne and the state's other tracks collectively enjoyed another $9.03 million. In 2014, Illinois tracks will reap an estimated $13.19 million. The ITHA has long stated that the recapture subsidy hurts Illinois horse racing by diminishing purses, and we have pushed to abolish that subsidy.)

Arlington Park, as well as Hawthorne Racecourse and other tracks and horse racing stakeholders, have joined us in pursuing passage of this agreed legislation. We're proud to advocate for the interests of horse racing, the horsemen who make our sport possible, and the tens of thousands of jobs that we support in Illinois agriculture. Authorizing slots at tracks will empower Illinois racing to better compete with racing in other states, from New York to Indiana, that already allow their tracks to boost purse sizes with revenue from slots.

Illinois horsemen are devoted to our sport and we make enormous contributions to advance it. The horses stabled at Arlington and Hawthorne represent an estimated $200 million investment by horsemen. Additionally, we spend more than $50 million each year to keep those horses trained. And every four or five years when those horses retire, we must replace and replenish them - thereby re-investing another $200 million.

But the fact is that Illinois horse racing is contracting relative to surrounding states. The share of handle wagered from locations in this state on races actually occurring here has plummeted from 98 percent in 1989 to 26 percent in 2012 (the difference is wagered on races occurring elsewhere). During that same period, total Illinois handle decreased by nearly half from $1.2 billion to $673 million, while the state's annual racing-related tax revenue collapsed from $43.3 million to $7.5 million.

There is reason for optimism that this legislation will be approved this year. Among other factors that lawmakers may consider, job preservation and growth are necessary to aid in this state's economic recovery. We can save our sport and the livelihood of thousands of horsemen and the tens of thousands of other jobs that horse racing supports.

Those jobs include veterinarians, breeders, feed and hay providers, blacksmiths and farm hands, and they're in addition to the jobs directly supported by racing at the tracks - jockeys, trainers, owners, union food and beverage workers, union gate crew workers, and backstretch workers.

If you have not already done so, please take a moment and call your respective senator and representative and encourage them both to support legislation necessary to protect the continued vitality of Illinois horse racing - and the tens of thousands of jobs that we support. If you do not know who your respective lawmakers are, please call the ITHA office at (847) 577-6464 and we will provide you with that information.

The time is now. We could actually grow this sport, grow this industry, and grow more jobs at a time when our state desperately needs them. We can do all this precisely by doing what the other major racing jurisdictions have already done - authorize slots at tracks as a means to enhance purses - and empower Illinois tracks to compete against them. Illinois could once again be a world-class destination for horse racing.

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 info@itharacing.com. Also see news updates posted at itharacing.com.


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