Hinsdale, IL --- The Illinois Harness Horseman’s Association today warned that potentially catastrophic changes to the state’s horse racing industry are on the horizon after September’s Illinois Racing Board race dates meeting.
Those changes include the shuttering of Maywood Park in the western suburbs and an extensive reduction in racing dates at Balmoral Racetrack in the southern suburbs. In a worst case scenario outlined by the IRB, live harness racing dates would be reduced from the 225 live race days in 2013 to a meager 13 live dates in 2014.
“Thousands of horsemen would lose their jobs and have their lives turned upside down under this scenario,” said IHHA President Dave McCaffrey.
The Racing Board passed four race date options during their last board meeting with a best case scenario keeping the race dates similar to 2013. The doomsday scenario would occur if the IRB does not receive $725,000 in supplemental funding from the state and an extension of Advance Deposit Wagering by Jan. 31, 2014.
“Harness racing in Illinois and all of the agribusiness associated with it would virtually cease to exist,” said McCaffrey. “Horsemen cannot make a living on 13 race dates per year. And neither can veterinarians, blacksmiths, breeders, grooms, hay farmers or truck and trailer salesmen.”
Under the first and best case scenario, the IRB will receive $725,000 in “supplemental funding” and ADW will be renewed by Jan. 31. The supplemental funding is required, says the IRB, to make up for a funding shortfall experienced earlier in 2013 when the General Assembly failed to extend ADW which allows online horse wagering. The IRB receives a substantial amount of revenue from ADW taxes. The General Assembly eventually passed an ADW extension in May of this year but it is set to expire again at the beginning of 2014.
Scenario one would basically keep harness racing the same as it currently is. Maywood Park would host live races two nights per week from Feb. 5 to Dec. 31 and Balmoral would host races three nights per week from Feb. 4 to Dec. 31.
In scenario two, ADW would be renewed by Jan. 31 but no supplemental funding would be provided for the IRB.
This second option would allow Maywood to race two nights per week from Feb. 19 to Dec. 31. Balmoral would race two nights per week from Feb. 15 to Dec. 31.
Under scenario three, the IRB would receive the $750,000 supplemental funding but no ADW extension would be passed.
The third option would close Maywood to live racing. Balmoral would race only two nights per week on Friday and Saturday starting on Feb. 15 and ending on Dec. 1.
The fourth scenario is by far the worst and would happen if the IRB receives no supplemental funding and ADW is not renewed.
Scenario four would virtually end harness racing in Illinois, allowing zero Maywood races and a meager 13 race nights at Balmoral in July, August and September.
“We plan to work with the IRB and the legislature to find adequate funding to retain the tens of thousands of agriculture jobs that the horse racing industry provides to Illinois,” said McCaffrey. “We know that the Governor and General Assembly understand the tremendous value that horse racing provides to Illinois’ economy as a major agribusiness driver. Without a solution, there will be a lot of new people filing for unemployment.”
The IHHA is also hopeful that the General Assembly will find the will to finally pass legislation allowing slots at racetracks during the fall veto session. To the tremendous detriment of Illinois racing, other states have allowed slot machines at racetracks, drawing bettors, horsemen and horses away from Illinois to greener pastures.
“We are definitely at a crossroads,” said McCaffrey. “The General Assembly has the power to save horse racing and the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars that it injects into Illinois’ economy, or they can let another major industry move to other states where it is allowed to be successful.”
Perhaps the only bright spot of the Racing Board hearing was the order handed down for racetracks to keep their backstretches open and operational under scenarios one and two. Of course that victory would be eliminated if an ADW bill is not passed.
Illinois’ Veto Session begins Oct. 22.