01/28/2015 3:53PM

Arlington purse structure to take a hit

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The Illinois Racing Board, a body in transition as new Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner sets up his administration, certified recapture amounts for racetracks in 2015, which is likely to result in significantly lower purses for the Arlington meet. The board also approved Hawthorne’s request to reduce the Illinois Derby’s purse from $500,000 to $400,000 during a meeting Tuesday in Chicago.

The board currently has no chairman, as William Berry, the previous chairman and a Democrat, will be replaced by Rauner’s Republican administration. Marc Laino was named chairman for one day in order to conduct Tuesday’s meeting, but Laino, the board’s longtime executive director, retired from his post effective Jan. 1, and the board also is without an executive director. The 11-member board still has four vacancies even after Arlene Mulder, the former mayor of Arlington Heights, and Robert Lunt, a veterinarian, were appointed this week.

The board’s main order of business Tuesday was certifying 2015 recapture amounts for the state’s racetracks. Recapture became law upon the advent of full-card simulcasting here and was meant to compensate track operators for the migration of betting on live races to distant simulcast signals and the accompanying loss of revenue. Arlington will receive $4,242,698 in recapture money this year, Hawthorne $2,598,999, and Fairmount Park $1,774,120.

The money is deducted from the track purse accounts, which has long infuriated horsemen here, many of whom believe recapture is destroying the Illinois purse structure, though track operators claim recapture money is required for operational expenses.

Arlington, according to board staff calculations, was forecast before recapture deductions to pay only about $231,000 in purses during its 2015 racing season, despite the fact that the meet will be reduced to two- and three-day racing weeks this year. Recapture deductions will trim that total substantially, and – if nothing changes before the meet begins in May – that will lead to a purse structure significantly lower than in 2014.

For three years, Arlington subsidized purses with money from a state-imposed impact fee on several casinos, but that money is now gone. Absent the impact-fee funds, Hawthorne this past fall and winter offered its lowest purses in decades.

Meanwhile, the board also approved Hawthorne’s bare-bones spring 2014 stakes schedule, including the Illinois Derby purse reduction.