12/16/2008 1:00AM

Casinos ordered to aid racing


STICKNEY, Ill. - Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law Monday legislation requiring the four highest-earning casinos in the state to pay 3 percent of their adjusted gross revenue to the Illinois horse racing industry.

The legislation extends for three years a law that previously existed for two years, but expired in May 2008. Legislators crafted the law to compensate horse racing for business that was lost to the casino industry.

Racing has yet to receive any money from the so-called impact fee, the legality of which was quickly challenged by the casinos. A lawsuit concerning the original legislation was rejected over the summer by the Illinois Supreme Court, but the casinos plan to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Their deadline to file that appeal recently was extended from Dec. 23 to Jan. 23. It won't be known for several months whether the court agrees to hear the appeal. The court takes on only a small percentage of appeals.

The new legislation was to take effect immediately, and also may be contested by the four casinos, which logically could tie this bill to the bill already under legal scrutiny.

The casinos paid nearly $80 million into an escrow account created when they filed their original lawsuit at the district court level. If and when the money flows into the racing industry, it will be split between Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing, and between horsemen and track operators. The sum already in escrow is large enough to boost the state's flagging racing industry, but not so large as to fundamentally alter it.

Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges last week, but soon was released on bond, and returned to work. Discussions between the governor and his associates about the racing legislation were included in documents released by federal prosecutors.

Distance may not suit Twin Buttes

A third-level optional $50,000 claimer for sprinters serves as the feature on Thursday. The race drew eight entries, including a coupled pair from trainer Jeff Lynn.

Twin Buttes, a four-time Hawthorne winner, is somewhat suspect at the race's 6 1/2-furlong distance, but may stay the trip if she is allowed to control the early pace. Trained by Frank Kirby, Twin Buttes hasn't raced since October, but posted a bullet five-furlong breeze on Dec. 8.