ITHA Presidency, Then & Now Posted On:Aug 29, 2012 | Posted By:Glen
The ITHA Presidency, Then and Now
The obligation of President of the ITHA has radically changed over the years. Once upon a time the office of President was considered more of a figure head obligation. Racing was the only game in town - river boat gambling did not exist and simulcasting was unheard of. Back in the day, straight wagers win, place and show, and daily doubles were the horseplayers' choices. ITHA obligations were limited to addressing needs of backside benevolence and contractual agreements between tracks and horsemen. Then in 1991 riverboat gaming challenged horse racing for its previously held exclusive right to the Illinois gaming dollar. Gone were the days of exclusivity and ignorance in development of the contemporary bettor. Nipping at horse racing's heels were very sophisticated gaming companies all seeking control of market share. Strangely enough, racetracks and horsemen groups alike declined participation through a subsidy and opposed riverboat gaming. Big Mistake. This began a precipitous decline in Illinois foal crops, gross handle, and spurred a mindset resembling that of a dying industry rather than a successful one.
Historically, horse racing in Illinois was a vibrant component of Illinois agri-business and a national leader in handle and attendance. The decline was further hastened by the parasitic introduction of another competing gaming platform, Racinos, which popped up in neighboring states while Illinois has sat back idling. The rest of the story is all too familiar to horsemen - the near cataclysmic erosion of an industry that horsemen and fans have a passion for and which supports the jobs of some 30 thousand people in Illinois.
After serving 10 years as a Director of the ITHA, I became president three years ago. It was clear that change could only happen with a strong ITHA Board of Directors, the engagement of many member volunteers, selection of new lobbyists, a thorough understanding of consequences to the purse account, and an ITHA mandate to restore pride to a beleaguered industry.
The ITHA reorganization began with my promise to the horsemen that the next Executive Director would not be by dictate of the President but would be selected by the Board from a pool of candidates with experience in racing who submitted resumes. The ITHA Board, consisting of seven owner-directors and six trainer-directors reviewed applicants, conducted interviews and ultimately chose Glen Berman as Executive Director and General Counsel.
Recognizing the need to show greater responsibility to our retired equine athletes, in 2010 Galloping Out was created as the first of its kind horse rehoming and retraining program for thoroughbreds that raced at Chicagoland tracks. To date, this 501(c)(3) charitable organization has overseen the redistribution of more than 40 thoroughbreds to lives beyond their functional capabilities as racing prospects and cares for approximately 30 such horses at any one time.
As an ITHA Board member I had heard time and time again from leadership in the General Assembly, "no consensus among racing stakeholders, no help from the legislature." Upon becoming President, I found myself challenged by bringing together the IHHA, ITBOF, HBPA, AQHA and the Board of the ITHA for consensus positions on ending recapture, live racing guarantees and percent of gross slot handle to purses,,,which we did. ITHA's legislative team of Chris Block, Glen Berman and Mike Campbell, were able to accomplish something that was virtually impossible in the past - create a united horsemen's coalition to address the needs of all horsemen. While some have tried to pull this coalition apart, it has stayed intact. ITHA met with numerous outside gaming consultants before entering into a comprehensive agreement between horsemen and the tracks. After five months of intense negotiations, a slot bill emerged which is the best of its kind. Although SB 1849 was vetoed, we feel confident that by working with industry and legislative leaders along with the Governor's office we will be able to give the Governor a gaming bill that he will sign, recognizing that this bill is necessary for the survival of the horse racing industry in Illinois.
ITHA is presently working with the tracks on Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) legislation. ADW contribution to purses at Arlington and Hawthorne in 2011 was approximately $1.5 million. The current ADW law sunsets at the end of this year and a new ADW bill must be negotiated, agreed to and passed during this Fall's veto session to keep revenues from ADW from being interrupted. ITHA supports a substantially greater percentage of ADW revenue going to purses than we currently receive.
A bill to allow internet gaming in Illinois surfaced during the Spring legislative session and at the insistence of the horsemen, senior leadership gave us a seat at the table alongside the tracks and casinos. To accomplish our goals will require continued negotiations with tracks, casinos and ADW companies as well as the Governor, Speaker, Senate President and legislators. Illinois horsemens' groups have traditionally not been included in determining future racing legislation. Although we have an overall common goal, the tracks have worked in their own best interests and still do. The ITHA supports horsemen's interests and will use horsemen's relationships with legislators to accomplish equitable legislation that provides equitable distribution to the purse account.
Being the President of this horsemen's association is for me, a seven day a week commitment. While not so long ago racing and backside issues were the primary concern of the ITHA President, today my obligation includes legislative activity at the state and federal levels. Having experience, and retaining people with experience to assist us is essential to our success contractually and legislatively. Relationships are ultimately the single greatest obligation of the leader of a horsemen's group. Horsemen in Illinois are our primary concern and the ITHA Board will continue to safeguard them and work in the best interest of racing.