11/18/2008 12:00AM

Casinos appealing to U.S. Supreme Court


STICKNEY, Ill. - No news, the saying goes, is good news, but when it comes to Hawthorne Race Course this fall, any news seems to be bad news. In September, the Illinois Racing Board pulled the plug on harness racing at Hawthorne for 2009, declining to award the track the summer harness meet it had hosted the previous several seasons. Last week, Hawthorne's bid to acquire a vacant Illinois casino license was rebuffed by the Illinois Gaming Board. And now, there is news that Hawthorne will not be seeing any money until at least next summer from a legislatively mandated impact fee imposed upon four northern Illinois casinos.

The casinos affected by the impact-fee legislation, which was created to help blunt the negative impact casino gaming has had on the Illinois racing business, have decided to appeal their case to the United States Supreme Court, and the money that has been accumulating in an escrow account since the state legislature first passed the law some 2 1/2 years ago will remain in that account for at least several more months.

The four casinos filed a lawsuit shortly after the legislation passed, contending the law was unconstitutional since it exempted Illinois' other five casinos. The casino group won the suit at the district court level in 2007, but this past June, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned that decision, and on Sept. 22, the state court declined to re-hear the case. While the U.S Supreme Court allows 90 days for an appeal, the Illinois court would have issued an irrevocable order releasing the impact-fee money in 30 days. Before that could happen, the casinos requested and were granted a stay in order to file an appeal to the highest court.

Shelly Kalita, an attorney for the Illinois Racing Board, said the casinos' original lawsuit involved concerns that could be applicable on a federal level. Though most appeals to the Supreme Court are denied a hearing, Kalita estimated that even were the court to reject hearing the casinos' appeal, the case would drag into next summer.

The IRB is to administer the funds when they are released. The escrow account has grown to more $80 million - which will be split between Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing, and between track operators and horsemen - and will continue to accumulate interest during the appeal process. While some horsemen have expressed a desire to pay the funds retroactive to the legislation's passing, Kalita said, "as far as the Board is concerned, the money will be distributed going forward."

Regardless, there will be no extra money for purses either during the ongoing meet, or for the spring Hawthorne meet that runs from March through May.

Williamson hot now, runs four Thursday

The trainer Brian Williamson typically has solid Hawthorne seasons, and when this meet opened in late September, Williamson seemed on track for his typical results.

"I thought I'd have a good meet coming in, and I won a few off the bat, but then it hit a big wall," Williamson said Tuesday. "My horses looked good, they were training good, but for some reason I had some bad racing luck, stuff like that. Everything was getting checked a lot, breaking bad, traffic problems - I was getting kind of frustrated. I tried a few different jocks with the same result."

But the worm has turned in the Williamson barn. After going just 6 for 55 here during the month of October, Williamson won with 4 of 10 starters last week alone, giving him 13 victories at the meet, just one less than leading trainer Wayne Catalano. And in the co-featured sixth race on Thursday at Hawthorne, Williamson has entered two-sevenths of the field in a second-level Illinois-bred two-turn allowance race.

The lightly raced Lawn makes her first start since March, and figures to be on or near the early lead. If Lawn holds on, fine, but if not, the Williamson-trained Have Faith should be coming late.

Williamson said Lawn "probably is tight enough" to run a top race, but Have Faith, with a win two starts back and a third at this same class level last time out, looks a little better in this spot. Or, she would, if the filly were more reliable.

"She's been a pain lately, because she'll get the lead and then she lets up," Williamson said. "She's just kind of a funny filly."

Williamson has horses in two other races Thursday, but nothing for race 4, a two-turn entry-level allowance for 2-year-old fillies.

Ravin Maniac is the most accomplished horse in this race, but never has run long, and might find this distance farther than her best.

Not so for Govieux City, who won her maiden around two turns at Arlington, and perhaps Lose None, who rallied for a close fourth in an Illinois-bred stakes on Nov. 1.

* The IRB in a meeting last week denied an appeal from co-owner and trainer Wayne Catalano, and upheld the Arlington stewards' decision to disqualify Jose Adan from first to third in the Arlington-Washington Futurity.