12/01/2009 12:00AM

Court rules against Illinois casinos

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CHICAGO - A county judge last week dealt a blow to four northern Illinois casinos seeking to stop about $76.5 million from being distributed to Illinois racetrack operators and racing purse accounts. The money was accumulated during a two-year impact fee legislatively imposed in 2004 on the four casinos, taking a small percentage of the casinos' gross receipts and giving them to horse racing interests. The money has been kept in a protest fund since the casinos challenged the constitutionality of the law, but last week's ruling marked the end of the line for one major strand of legal recourse, and the money is being moved from the protest fund into the Horseracing Equity Trust Fund.

The casinos' last chance to hold up disbursement of the money rests with a federal judge, who said Monday he would decide within one week whether to distribute the money. The federal court became involved late this summer when the casinos filed a RICO suit, hoping to further forestall the distribution of the money.

If the judge rejects the casinos' request for a temporary restraining order on the funds, track operators and purse accounts could get a significant boost within days. Hawthorne Race Course, which runs a live meet through January, would receive about $6.9 million, and about $9.5 million in purse money. Arlington Park is in line to receive $10.3 million, with $13.6 million going to purses.

The Illinois legislature renewed the impact-fee legislation last year, but that law currently is under legal challenge from the casinos at the district court level.