The Illinois Senate passed a historic piece of legislation this afternoon that may prove to be a pivotal turning point for horse racing in the state. By a vote of 30-27, state legislators approved a gambling extension bill that will bring 14 new gambling venues to the state. The bill, which secured the needed 30 votes, will now be passed to Governor Pat Quinn. There has not been any credible news regarding his expected action on the bill so his decision on whether to approve, veto, or make changes with an amendatory veto is still pending.
But what will this bill do for Illinois Horse Racing?
If passed, Illinois Horsemen and racing fans will receive a long-awaited sigh of relief. Along with Chicago Airports, Midway and O’Hare, slot machine gambling will be given the green light and be introduced at all Horse Racing Tracks throughout the state. For anyone not familiar with the current trends in Illinois Racing, slot machine gambling has long been considered a potential saving grace for the sport in Illinois. Over the past several years interest has decreased, attendance has fallen flat, betting revenue’s have declined and racing purses have suffered the most. With the trends continuing, more and more long time Illinois owners have either considered leaving or ultimately decided to move full-time to Indiana, Kentucky, or even further away. The choice they were forced to make was deciding whether or not they still felt there was much of a future for Illinois Racing. Until today, that future was looking bleak.
The most obvious and recent sign of decline was on the 2011 Kentucky Derby Trail when the once prized Illinois Derby, at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero, had to reduce its total purse from $500,000 to $300,000. Even more discouraging was on a cold day in February when Hawthorne cancelled racing for the day due to a limited number of entries on the day’s racing card. Overall, the more the purse money began to decline, the less there was to be won. With everyone from walkers, to feed suppliers, to trainers and breeders beginning to recognize the concerns, the racing state that once boasted itself as home to 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation, was slowly beginning to fall apart.
With remaining Illinois Horsemen continuing to see their associates leave for bigger purses in Indiana or further south in Hot Springs, New Orleans, or Florida the reason for their departure has always been as clear as day. It was in these states and race tracks that the purse money was being supported and stabilized by the slot machines and the revenues they produced. The most notable Race Track Casinos or “Racinos” are Gulfstream Park, Fair Gounds, Oaklawn and Delaware Park. These tracks, along with others within the states of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Iowa, New Mexico and Oklahoma, have continued to see their betting revenues fluctuate but have enjoyed seeing their overall revenues progressively climb since the introduction of slot machines. With more money coming in, the tracks have stayed true to their roots by increasing purses, attracting more competitive horses, and offering a better overall racing experience for the horse racing fans.
It has been a long time coming but the Illinois Senate got the state one step closer. Now, the Illinois Racing Industry, Horsemen and fans will have wait for Gov. Quinn to sign the bill and finally bring slot machines to our racetracks in Illinois. Not everyone agrees but the majority of Illinois Horsemen truly believe this measure will save the racing industry in Illinois and return the state to a being a major player on the racing scene. Do you?
Written by: Little Brink
Illinois Horse racing facilities (Harness Included): Arlington, Hawthorne Race Course, Fairmount Park, Balmoral Park and Maywood Park