12/03/2013 6:25PM

Illinois legislature fails to take up racetrack funding bill

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Senate Bill 66, which would resolve the Illinois Racing Board funding issue that continues to imperil the 2014 Illinois racing season, was not called for a vote during a session of the Illinois legislature on Tuesday.

The legislature convened in a special session and passed long-awaited major legislation that would reform the state’s pension system. Caught up in that action, legislators had no time or attention left to deal with a bill that must be passed by Jan. 31 to avert sharp cutbacks in the Illinois racing schedule.

The legislature is scheduled to meet for just one day, on Jan. 29, before that deadline. If legislators fail to pass the bill, Hawthorne could run only 15 days in 2014, and Arlington just 49.

The bill authorizes the extension of account wagering in the state and provides a satisfactory funding mechanism for the Illinois Racing Board, which had a revenue stream cut off for about five months earlier this year when account-wagering law was allowed to lapse.

When the legislature met in regularly scheduled November session, two competing amendments – one from Arlington, the other backed by all the other entities in Illinois racing – were introduced to the bill. Legislative leaders demanded industry consensus before calling the bill, and on Nov. 20, after a long negotiating session the day before, the Illinois Racing Board announced an official agreement among all stakeholders had been formed to present to the legislature.

The bill would extend account wagering for three years and provide board funding through a 0.2 percent surcharge on all winning wagers placed by any means – at a racetrack, an off-track betting parlor, or through an account wager – in the state.

Among a handful of other provisions, the agreement also would permit a voluntary additional 0.5 percent surcharge by racetracks, account-wagering providers, and off-track betting parlors on winning wagers. Wagers at Illinois off-track betting parlors already are subject to a mandatory surcharge, while racetracks can impose a voluntary 1 percent surcharge on winning wagers, something Arlington and Hawthorne have chosen not to apply.

Industry leaders have expressed strong optimism since the consensus agreement was reached that the legislature would easily pass the bill once taken up. But time is running out, and the racing industry here must hope nothing unforeseen gets in the way of the legislature taking up and passing the measure in late January.