08/12/2011 7:38PM

Arlington Park raises purses 21 percent, horsemen upset

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Using an infusion of cash from a long-delayed casino impact-fee fund, Arlington Park raised overnight purses by 21 percent Friday, but did so over the objections of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

The ITHA and Arlington have not come to an agreement about how $25.9 million dedicated to purses should be distributed, and ITHA officials say that Arlington’s decision to start paying the money Friday without having reached an agreement is a breach of contract.

“They control the purse account, so yes, they can do this, but legally, they’ll be in breach of contract,” said Glen Berman, the ITHA executive director. “The contract says it has to be mutually agreed upon.”

More than $141 million became available to Illinois racing interests – Standardbred and Thoroughbred, track operators and horsemen - on midnight Monday after the expiration of legal challenges to 2006 legislation requiring Illinois’ four highest-earning casinos to pay 3 percent of adjusted gross receipts to racing. The legislation didn’t anticipate the money being paid in a lump sum and doesn’t stipulate how the funds are to be distributed, but the ITHA and Arlington have a contract for the 2011 meet stating that the money will be paid out during the rest of the 2011 meet at a rate to be negotiated by the two parties, and the rest distributed in 2012 and 2013. Arlington would prefer to extend the impact-fee purse increases through 2014, something the ITHA leadership presently rejects. And now, the size of the current purse increase may also be the subject of dispute. 

“Twenty-one percent is low,” Berman said. “It should be 25 percent.”

Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said Arlington had the right to distribute the money as the track sees fit.

“We interpret the law that we’re the custodians of this money, so we’ve moved forward and distributed it,” said Petrillo.

Petrillo said the 21 percent increase will put average daily overnight purses at a little more than $202,000 for the rest of this season. Mike Campbell, the ITHA president, said the horsemen’s group wanted $208,000 in daily overnight purses.

Arlington and ITHA officials met late Friday in an attempt to resolve their differences, but a final decision on how the money will be paid out might not come until a meeting of the Illinois Racing Board on Aug. 30.