08/11/2011 7:16PM

Arlington Park, horsemen differ on impact-fee schedule


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Arlington Park and the leaders of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association have so far failed to reach agreement on how to pay out millions of dollars of casino impact-fee funds that became available early this week.

The main point of contention between the two groups - at least for the time being - is Arlington's desire to extend payment of $25.9 million in purse money through the 2014 racing season. Officials of the horsemen's association presented a contract for the 2011 meeting that stipulates impact-fee money for purses be paid the rest of the 2011 meet and in 2012 and 2013 but does not agree on 2014 payments right now.

The four highest-earning casinos in Illinois paid 3 percent of their gross revenue into an escrow fund between 2006, when the state legislature passed a bill requiring impact-fee payments to racing, and last month, when the opening of the state's 10th casino stopped the payments. The casinos held up distribution of funds for years through various legal maneuvers, but legal challenges apparently came to an end at midnight Monday, and more than $141 million was released to the state's racing industry. That money is divided between the Standardbred and Thoroughbred breeds and split again between track operators and purse accounts, and it is the purse money that is causing the dispute at Arlington.

Early Thursday afternoon, Arlington issued a press release stating that beginning Aug. 12, about 10 percent of the fund's $25.9 million would be used to increase purses for the rest of the racing season. The release said that the plan "is subject to a signed agreement with the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association," and horsemen's officials said that no such agreement was pending. The horsemen's association says it wouldn't necessarily reject spreading purse money through 2014, but executive director Glen Berman said that question could be addressed early next year, by which time the state's racing industry should know whether it will be permitted to begin operating slot machines.

The horsemen's association has proposed a 25-percent overnight purse increase for the rest of this meet, a number that roughly in accord with Arlington's plan to use 10 percent of the available purse money. Impact-fee funds also would be used to zero out a purse-account overpayment that will come into effect after purse money is distributed for the rich stakes races here Saturday. It also seems likely that Arlington's current practice of returning 15 percent of published purses to the purse account in races where fewer than eight betting interests come to the paddock will be ended once an agreement can be reached on application of the impact-fee funds.

If the two sides fail to come to terms, the matter is likely to be taken up by the Illinois Racing Board at a regularly scheduled monthly meeting in late August.