With just over three months until the new year, horsemen and employees of Illinois racetracks have no idea what 2014 may bring after the Illinois Racing Board on Tuesday approved four alternate racing schedules ranging from a severe reduction in racing dates to a business as usual calendar.
In the end, it will be up to the state legislature to determine whether Chicago suburban tracks Arlington Park and Hawthorne operate as many as 189 combined live dates or as few as 64. In 2013, Arlington Park was awarded 89 live dates and Hawthorne 101.
The law permitting advance-deposit wagering, which helps fund the Illinois Racing Board, expires early next year and unless it is extended by Jan. 31 the IRB will run out of money to regulate racing. The IRB is also seeking $750,000 in supplemental funding from the state, money it says was lost when the previous ADW law sunset on Jan. 1, 2013, and wasn't renewed until June.
If the legislature neither passes ADW nor provides the $750,000 in supplement funding, Arlington will only race 49 days in 2014 and Hawthorne 15 days. The tracks will split host-track status for incoming simulcasts, but that doesn't do Illinois horsemen any good.
If supplemental funding is approved but ADW legislation does not pass, Arlington would race 68 days, with Hawthorne running 50. If ADW passes but supplement funding is not approved, Arlington would race 89 days and Hawthorne 81. The best-case scenario – both supplemental funding and ADW legislation are passed – Arlington will get the same number of dates it is running in 2013 – 89 – while Hawthorne gets one fewer day, 100.
Fairmount Park in downstate Illinois would also be affected, with its dates ranging from 10 to 52. Dates at harness tracks are also contingent on the two pieces of legislation.
Here are the different schedules approved, depending on what action the Illinois legislature takes.
Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, issued the following statement following the IRB meeting. In his comment, Campbell alluded to $600,000 in savings the IRB could obtain by switching testing laboratories from the University of Illinois-Chicago to HFL Sport Science in Lexington, Ky., when the contract with the UIC expires on June 30, 2014. HFL Sport Science is fully accredited with the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, while the UIC lab is not.
The Illinois Racing Board on Tuesday proposed four possible racing date schedules for 2014. The IRB intends to choose the final schedule, from the four options, based on whether lawmakers agree to continue advance deposit wagering and/or grant the IRB a supplemental appropriation of $725,000 to alleviate its budget stress.
The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association had previously urged the IRB to avoid ordering a 30% cut to dates in 2014 – as the Board had contemplated. We are relieved and gratified that the IRB instead put forth an alternative schedule that is comparable to the 2013 schedule.
Other schedule alternatives, however, would mean draconian cuts to Illinois racing dates. For a PDF summary of the IRB's four schedule alternatives, click here.
Ongoing Support for ADW
The ITHA is working with lawmakers to negotiate a fair and appropriate ADW extension law that will maximize support for purses and truly promote the interests of horse racing. Our state's ADW law, which expires Jan. 31, 2014, has become a goldmine for ADW companies – ADW companies take half or more of the profit and leave the rest for tracks and purses to split.
Illinois is heading into its fifth year of ADW, and it's past time for ADW to adequately support purses.
As I testified before the Illinois Racing Board on Sept. 11, ITHA will continue to work toward an ADW solution with a fair distribution of handle maximizing purse funding – as the law was intended to do. I also testified that if the only option prior to expiration of the current law is to continue the current law for another year, then the ITHA will, as it has twice before, agree to support such an extension.
In 2012, ADW handle totaled $122.17 million and purses received $3.37 million or 2.76 percent. In 2010, the first full year of ADW in Illinois, handle was $97.8 million and purses received $3.34 million or 3.41 percent. So while handle is growing, the percentage shared with purses is dropping.
ADW in Illinois was not intended to enrich the ADW companies that facilitate wagering online. It was intended to support purses, as well as generate revenue for the state and the tracks that partner with those ADW companies.
ADW companies earn their gaming privilege solely because of their association with horse racing. Saving horse racing, preserving jobs, and supporting Illinois agriculture is the entire point of expanding gaming opportunities related to horse racing, whether that's allowing tracks to offer slot machines or Internet gaming, or permitting ADW.
Lawmakers return to Springfield for their fall session on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
IRB Budget Pressure
While the ITHA understands that the IRB would desire a $725,000 supplemental appropriation to bolster its administrative budget, we would be remiss not to note that the ITHA has suggested to the IRB a way to cut most of that amount from its annual expenses.
HFL Sport Science, Inc., a fully accredited lab located in Kentucky, has reported to the ITHA that it could provide equine drug testing services to the IRB at an estimated savings of more than $600,000 annually over the IRB's current contract with a lab based at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
What's more, HFL Sport Science is accredited under both the ISO 17025 standard and the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium standard – a higher standard that's uniquely tailored for horse racing. The UIC lab currently testing in Illinois is not accredited under either standard.
The ITHA has urged the IRB to consider contracting with a different lab, such as HFL Sport Science or another fully accredited lab, when its current contract with the UIC lab expires on June 30, 2014.
Illinois horsemen are committed to ensuring a vibrant future for Illinois horse racing and protecting more than 37,000 jobs that depend on our sport. We respectfully encourage the IRB to consider this solution as a means to address the majority of its budget shortfall and alleviate pressure to cut racing dates. – Mike Campbell
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