09/24/2013 4:58PM

Illinois Racing Board budget deficit threatens 2014 season

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CHICAGO – Budgetary problems within the Illinois Racing Board could lead to a drastic reduction in racing dates next year, and the 2014 schedule the board approved by an 8-1 vote Tuesday in Chicago is contingent upon their resolution. The board says it lacks the money to properly administer a typical Illinois racing season – supplying veterinarians and stewards, running the testing laboratory – and in a worst-case scenario their financial plight could lead to a 185-day reduction in racing dates from 2013.

The board depends on account-wagering handle for part of its funding and lost about $725,000 when the law permitting account-wagering companies to operate in Illinois was allowed to expire Jan. 31 and wasn’t restored until June 7. Unaltered, the law expires again on Jan. 31, so the board can’t know if it will have enough money to fulfill its statutory obligations for a full racing season. The board will request a supplemental payment from the state to plug the hole left by the 2013 account-wagering shutdown, and the legislature, when it meets for a fall session starting Oct. 22, will be asked to extend the account-wagering law. How racing is conducted next year in Illinois depends on how much of that money actually flows to the IRB. Because of the uncertainty the board approved four possible schedules.

In the best-case scenario, Schedule 1, the legislature would approve supplemental funding and extend the account-wagering law. That would trigger a schedule similar to this year’s: Arlington would have 89 races days, from April 28 to Sept. 30, and 90 days where they’re the dark-day simulcast host, reaping the benefits of local players betting distant signals. Hawthorne would have 100 race days – Feb. 21 to April 27 in the spring, and Oct. 1 to Dec 31 in the fall and winter – and 86 dark-host days. Downstate Fairmount Park would race 52 days.

Schedule 2 is triggered if the legislature extends account wagering but does not approve a supplemental payment. This scenario would alter Hawthorne’s season: The track would go dark from Nov. 16 to Dec. 12, reducing their race days to 81 and increasing their dark-host days to 110. Arlington’s season would remain similar – 89 live days and 85 dark-host – and Fairmount would run 52 cards.

Schedule 3, triggered if the state approves a supplemental payment but account wagering is not renewed, would lead to major changes: Arlington would race 68 days, running three-day weeks from May through September while Hawthorne would have only 50 racing days, and Fairmount 19.

Schedule 4 would be applied if there is no supplemental payment to the board and the account-wagering law isn’t renewed, and this would all but crush Illinois racing. Arlington would have only a 49-day meet, ending Aug. 20; Hawthorne would race only 15 days, Fairmount 10 days. There would be only 13 days of harness racing anywhere in Chicago.

On the face of things, it seems highly unlikely the legislature would allow such massive change to take place, but the political landscape in Illinois is volatile and complicated. Legislation that would permit tracks to operate slot parlors stalled again this year in the legislature, and last winter, many thought the government wouldn’t allow the account-wagering law to expire.

Part of the reason account wagering ceased this year is competing visions of the law. Arlington Park is part of Churchill Downs Inc., which has its own account-wagering platform. Arlington likes the current law and would like to see it enacted “in perpetuity,” according to general manager Tony Petrillo. Hawthorne, harness-track owners, and the state’s horsemen have lobbied to change the law to distribute money taken from account-wagering handle in a manner more beneficial to them.

“I don’t think we’ll see one of the worst-case scenarios,” Hawthorne president Tim Carey said. “At a minimum, we’re going to get [account wagering] done in the fall.”

Arlington, however, is unhappy even with the best-case scenario. The track lost 17 dark-host days from 2012 to 2013 and will gain none of them back in 2014 regardless of which schedule is employed.

“I don’t know how long we can keep coming to our board and asking to keep operating this property,” Petrillo said. “We’re not seeing the revenue opportunities come back to us.”

The passage of legislation permitting racetrack slot machines would instantly salve all these wounds, but the legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn have insisted gambling expansion won’t go anywhere until the incredibly thorny issue of pension reform is resolved.

“Everything’s in the hands of the legislature now,” Petrillo said, though one can bet that legislators will be hearing plenty from racing interests this fall.

Bert More than 1 year ago
I am from Wisconsin and used to come down to Arlington several times a month. Due to lower purse sizes the last several years and thus lower caliber of racing, I now only come down twice a year. There are thousands of Wisconsinites like me. My wife and I used to stay at local motels and make a weekend of it. You have a magnificent facility in Arlington that is woefully under ultilized. I agree with the previous writer who encouraged you to elect politicians that will actually help you. Racetrack slots will increase purse sizes and attract higher caliber horses. Better caliber racing will bring people like me back to your state to spend our money. When I am not there, I would then wager Arlington online. Please let us Wisconsinites help you out of your financial woes and elect some legislators that will improve this situation for you.
Dean More than 1 year ago
Under Utilized? As much as I am Anti Arlington due to fact they could care less about the regular gamblers they do a great job filling the track with patrons...Arlington is like Wrigley Field no matter how bad the racing product they will always get 20K attendance on weekends at $12 a person+...They make a killing off the on-track crowd with admison, food, drink, seats and special events...Sure when they have million day they get huge crowds but they do very very well every weekend and could care less about improving the purses to attrack more peeps...Slots would only get Churchill even fatter!!!!
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
The quality of racing at the highest level have sucked for years. If the racing industry can only survive because it is subsidized by it's biggest competitor CASINOS, what exactly does that tell you?. The gaming casinos couldn't care less about horseracing. They only need them TEMPORARILY to get the casinos approved. Eventually they will figure out a way to get rid of the track and put slots and table games on those real-estate. Yap, I know I am going to get plenty of thumbs down for these facts but that is not even an if...it is a when and plenty here just denying these facts.
darrellp More than 1 year ago
No track should get slots to fund horse racing. If racing can't stand on its own then it should go just like any other business. Horse racing is a business and should be treated like any other business. Come on and wake up, the idea that the racing board needs the money from internet wagering is unfounded. Its only been a few years since people in Illinois were able to legally wager on-line so where did the funds come from before this?
DRFHersh More than 1 year ago
A few years before this the state of Illinois wasn't as broke as it is now.
Russell More than 1 year ago
So you're saying nobody can figure out how much money is generated online for the racing board, allowing the board to pull the wool over everyone's eyes? The ADW's must pay out in secret without the knowledge of any other state agency.
prose More than 1 year ago
Illinois offers racing of no consequence except one day of the year -- Arlington Million Day. If none of the other racing days went off horses players around the country wouldn't care. It's just simply an inferior product that no one gives a crap about.
Walter More than 1 year ago
If the state does not run live racing they should not be entitled to offer out of state simulcasting either. However, if this does happen, it will show that people in Illinois don't care much about their own racing. Bettors will go to their local OTB & just bet racing from other states. It will end Illinois racing for good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The people of Illinois continue to elect and put up with elected officials like Pat Quinn, Blago and Mike Madigan, So, is it a surprise that the state is essentially bankrupt and nothing of significance gets accomplished in Springfield? It's time that the people of Illinois step up and save the state from ruin. To the people of Illinois......it's not ok to just step into the ballot box and vote Democrat with reckless disregard because someone from the "machine" came knocking on your door. LOOK WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING TO YOUR STATE FOR THE LAST DECADE!
Jarod Blade More than 1 year ago
you mean the people of Chicago? There's the problem.
jackdsplns More than 1 year ago
Here we go again. The most corrupt state in the Union hesitating to pass legislation until the politicians get their kickbacks.The racetrack owners with their constant bickering.Always expect the worst case if you're an Illinois horse player. The best bet you can make is the ADW law will not be passed or if it does ,a percentage of juice will be taken out on all winning wagers.Either way the Illinois horse player loses.Again.
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
Somehow in the good ole days race tracks managed without otb, or internet wagering. There was only one venue and that was the track. Sure some bet through bookies but the track got no recompense from the books. Illinois tracks will have to offer a product that bettors want
mikec203 More than 1 year ago
Good to see that in the midst of a potential catastrophic shut down, the whiny children at Arlington/CDI still find time to cry about the status quo and threaten closure.
mikey More than 1 year ago
With all the peoblems in CHI TOWN close the tracks and hire more police to protect the city.Clean up the city and it will be money well soent.
Russell More than 1 year ago
Closing the tracks would not enable Chicago to hire more police. They are two unrelated issues.
Lawrence Macselwiney More than 1 year ago
Exactly. The city he lives in doesn't pay for the track. The tracks need to stay open and these idiots need to agree on the pension aspect of the slots in a hurry.
darrellp More than 1 year ago
No track should get slots to fund horse racing. If racing can't stand on its own then it should go just like any other business. Horse racing is a business and should be treated like any other business. Come on and wake up, the idea that the racing board needs the money from internet wagering is unfounded. Its only been a few years since people in Illinois were able to legally wager on-line so where did the funds come from before this?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That makes a lot of sense Mikey. Close the tracks and hire more police. Why didn't someone else think of that ingenious plan to fight crime. Moron! The track generates millions for the state while it costs the City of Chicago Millions to hire more police. I can see how those two things work in unison. NOT How about Governor Dingbat Quinn let's the tracks have their slots so more $ can come into the state budget and then perhaps the state can give the city a subsidy for more police. That's if there's anything left after Quinn signs some further construction bills to rebuild things that were done just a couple years ago in an inferior manner. Now that's a jobs bill!
Jarod Blade More than 1 year ago
Close Chicago and keep Arlington.