11/07/2013 4:57PM

Illinois legislature takes no action to address funding for 2014 racing


CHICAGO -- The Illinois state legislature concluded its three-day fall-veto session Thursday without taking up legislation to extend the state’s account-wagering law and provide funding for the Illinois Racing Board to administer a full season of racing in 2014.

The current account-wagering law, which helps fund the Illinois Racing Board, expires in late January, and the Racing Board awarded 2014 racing dates contingent upon its renewal. If the account-wagering law expires and no additional funding is provided to the IRB, Hawthorne would race just 14 days in 2014 compared with 101 scheduled days this year. Arlington’s schedule would be cut from 89 to 49 days, and there would only 13 days of harness racing in the state, 238 fewer than in 2013.

Two amendments to Senate Bill 66 – the vehicle for the account-wagering law – were filed Thursday, but the bill never was called for a vote. Legislative leaders reportedly want consensus among the various racing entities in the state, and that has not yet been achieved.

Amendment 3 represents the position taken by Arlington and its parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., while Amendment 4 distills the position of most of the other racing interests in the state: Thoroughbred tracks Fairmount and Hawthorne, harness tracks Balmoral and Maywood, and organizations representing Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen.

Amendment 3, the de facto CDI bill, proposes increasing by .135-percent the parimutuel tax paid by tracks on takeout from wagers at both physical wagering facilities and through online betting. That tax increase would adequately fund the IRB for three years, and the legislation would extend the account-wagering law through 2017.

Amendment 4, the de facto proposal from non-Arlington parties, would raise revenue for the IRB through a .9-percent surcharge on every winning bet placed through an account-wagering provider – essentially a takeout increase. The amendment also would permit racetracks to operate 10, rather than the current six, off-track betting locations. Bets at OTBs would be subject to a surcharge of up to .5-percent. Any revenue generated by the ADW surcharge beyond the IRB’s budgetary requirement would wind up with horsemen or track operators.

The legislature is scheduled to return for a one-day session in January. There’s also the possibility of a special short session in December that would mainly address the funding of state-backed pensions, the real crisis in Illinois government.

Arlington president Tony Petrillo said despite the desire of legislative leaders not to call a bill with competing amendments, legislative action still could be taken even if a compromise between the competing positions isn’t reached before the legislature convenes again.

“We might see something that is a take-it-or-leave-it bill,” Petrillo said.

The two middle-scenario schedules put out by the IRB are probably dead: It will either be full funding and business as usual in 2014, or a racing industry barely a shadow of its current existence.