06/08/2005 12:00AM

Fairmount fights for slice


A pair of upstate vs. downstate battles are threatening to escalate into civil war after the Hawthorne-based National Jockey Club quietly put the kibosh on a piece of legislation that would have netted Fairmount Park about $150,000 in much-needed revenue.

Back in late February, the Illinois statehouse unanimously passed Collinsville Democrat Jay Hoffman's House Bill 665, whereby funds generated from unclaimed winning simulcast tickets - or "outs," in parimutuel parlance - at Fairmount Park would have remained in the track's possession to help defray operational fees and fatten stakes purses. Gov. Rod Blagojevich had indicated his intent to sign Hoffman's legislation, which sought to allow Fairmount to reclaim outs revenue that it had signed over to the Chicago host tracks as part of a 1995 simulcast agreement.

Lanny Brooks, the executive director of Fairmount's Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, thought Hoffman's legislation was a partial remedy for what he saw as a raw deal. But a deal's a deal, said the NJC, which, according to Brooks, successfully appealed to Senate president Emil Jones to stymie the measure once it crossed chambers.

"We did oppose that bill, because the outs money was something we negotiated back in 1995," said NJC board chair Patti Bidwill. "If it was taken away from us, it would have meant about $150,000. And our industry is in so much hurt that $150,000 is a huge amount of money."

Causing further strain is the Illinois Racing Board's ongoing refusal to grant Fairmount a share of penny breakage on simulcast wagers. Fairmount vice president Joe Ruppert describes penny breakage like this: "Let's say a horse pays $4.1365 on a show bet. That will break down to $4.10, which might pay $4 at the track. The .10 is the dime breakage, and the .0365 is the penny breakage."

Ruppert says his track is correctly receiving its revenue from the dime breakage, 25 percent of which Fairmount invests in its purses, per Illinois racing statutes. But those statutes make no mention of penny breakage, compelling the host tracks to keep these funds rather than dole them out to Fairmount, according to Ruppert and Brooks. Bob Lang, the racing board's director of mutuels, did not return calls seeking comment. Ruppert estimates that the loss of penny breakage costs Fairmount around $150,000 per year.