03/29/2006 1:00AM

Illinois bill fails to pass House


The Illinois legislature, in what has become an annual ritual, dashed hopes for financial aid to the state's horseracing industry on Wednesday afternoon, sending to defeat a bill that would have directed 3 percent of annual gross receipts from eight of the state's nine riverboat casinos into a racing trust fund.

The bill, HB 1917, attracted 58 votes in the Illinois House of Representatives, two short of the 60 that would have passed the bill and sent it on to the senate. As late as Wednesday morning, industry officials had expressed hope that the bill had the necessary votes for passage, but the measure fell just short.

It was estimated that HB 1917, which has a history dating to 2005, would have funneled some $54 million into the state's harness and Thoroughbred industries, with 60 percent of that total earmarked for purses, and the rest going to track operators. The windfall could have sent purses at the state's tracks soaring. Arlington Park, for instance, might have realized some $8.4 million in additional purse money for a single season based on 2004 financial statements, an amount that could have translated into a per diem purse increase of more than $80,000.

In practice, the financial benefits might have proven trickier or less lucrative than advertised, but the point is moot, at least until the state government reconvenes later in the year for the fall veto session. The bill came into being as a measure to supplant the financial boost Illinois racing was supposed to get when the state's 10th riverboat casino became operational, but the license for that potential casino became entangled in a morass of legal and administrative issues years ago, and its future remains uncertain. HB 1917 would have deleted the existing provision for racing tied to the 10th riverboat, but with the bill's defeat, Illinois racetracks will spend another summer waiting and wondering if and when legislative relief will ever become reality.