President of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association
Mike Campbell, ITHA President,
Thoroughbred Trainer & Owner
Dear Fellow Horsemen:
It's easy to focus on the Illinois legislature's failure to approve the slots-at-tracks bill. Illinois horsemen have spent years educating policy makers about the necessity of allowing Illinois horse racing to more adequately compete with the sport in other states, and yet, one might argue, we walked away from the Capitol this spring with nothing to show for that.
In truth, Illinois horsemen have much to show for our work at the Illinois Capitol. Any energy we expend lamenting this anticlimactic spring session is energy wasted - it's energy better spent on marking our successes and preparing for the next big push before Illinois lawmakers.
The House sponsor's decision not to call the slots-at-tracks bill for a vote on the last day of session was a tough setback, no doubt. But that decision did not occur in a vacuum; the gaming expansion proposal exists in a complicated political environment where lawmakers are attempting to reconcile, among other challenges, a budget awash in red ink and public pension debt approaching $100 billion.
What's more, the fact is the General Assembly has twice approved this proposal. Those votes were major victories and Illinois horsemen deserve much of the credit for them.
The latest version of the bill, which stalled in the House, reflects Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association priorities:
Slots-at-tracks language identical to that in Senate Bill 1849, the bill that lawmakers approved last spring.
The purse rates we previously agreed to.
The guaranteed racing opportunities we previously agreed to.
Elimination of "recapture."
Additionally, thanks to ITHA's advocacy, this legislation also would provide an increase, from 11.5% to 20%, in breeders' awards.
As you know, Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed both of the bills that lawmakers previously approved. And while he did not have the chance to weigh Senate Bill 1739 - the latest version - he appears far more open-minded than he has been in the past. In late May, the governor signaled a pathway to his approval when he said he would not approve the gaming bill until after lawmakers address the state's mounting public pension liability.
Lawmakers have not yet agreed on a plan addressing that debt. But they are under enormous pressure - both fiscal and political - to do so. We're hopeful lawmakers will soon resolve the state's pension liability crisis, removing an obstacle to positive consideration of the slots-at-tracks bill. (Lawmakers reconvene in Springfield this week to continue deliberations toward a resolution of the pension debt.)
In the meantime, we will be engaged at any hearings concerning slots at tracks, and we will continue our efforts to demonstrate the urgency of better funding purses to ensure the survival of Illinois horse racing and the protection of more than 35,000 jobs in Illinois agribusiness that horsemen support.
10th License Revenue, ADW Extension
Both chambers of the General Assembly approved an extension of advance deposit wagering through Jan. 31, 2014. Gov. Quinn signed that bill into law on Friday, June 7, and ADW operators went back online in Illinois the same day.
This bill will release $23 million from the State Gaming Fund for horse racing - to be split by tracks and purses. The purse account at Arlington will receive $3,630,725 and the purse account at Hawthorne will receive $2,133,863.
We have been advised by Arlington that half the purse monies it receives will be used in 2013 and the balance will be used in 2014. Despite handle being down considerably so far this season at Arlington, the receipt of these funds will allow purses for races at Arlington to stay the same throughout the remainder of the 2013 Arlington meet.
Additionally, with ADW back online, purses at those two tracks are expected to realize another $100,000 a month from that ADW revenue.
Internet Gaming Defeated
We also blocked passage of an Internet gaming proposal that would have authorized tracks and ADW operators to host online casino-style games without sharing any of that revenue with purses.
If tracks are authorized to operate Internet gaming, they lose much of the incentive to build racinos and operate slot machines as contemplated by the slots-at-tracks bill. That means no construction jobs, no permanent racino jobs and no local capital investment. And if they are not required to use that Internet gaming revenue to fund purses, that means no support for horse racing or agribusiness.
Building racinos to operate slot machines is a vastly more expensive proposition than launching Internet gaming. If tracks have the option of choosing between building racinos and initiating Internet gaming, why wouldn't they focus foremost on Internet gaming?
We fully support allowing tracks to offer casino-style games online - but only as a means to fund purses. Let's remember that tracks would earn this gaming privilege solely because of their association with horse racing. Generating additional revenue to fund purses - to save horse racing, preserve jobs, and support Illinois agriculture - is the entire point of letting tracks venture into casino-style gaming.
If this proposal had passed as drafted, thereby enriching track owners and providing no benefit for horse racing, our sport would have been devastated. That's what we explained to legislative leadership and other lawmakers, and we prevailed.
These are major victories and Illinois horsemen deserve credit for them.
This is our time to reflect on all that we have accomplished and seize the opportunity to regroup and redouble our resolve to accomplish our full objectives.
We are dedicated to supporting the men and women who enable horse racing in Illinois, and the equine athletes that make our sport possible. We will continue to advocate for policies and conditions that boost Illinois horse racing and that help ensure a vibrant future for our sport for generations to come.
To be successful, we must stay focused, organized and vigilant.
A version of this message was published in the July edition of Illinois Racing News in the form of President Campbell's monthly column.
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