HORSEMEN CALL ON LAWMAKERS FOR AID

02:12 AM 01 Dec 2005 NZDT
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On Wednesday, (November 30), the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association called the move of their former president Tony Morgan to Delaware, one more sign the state of Illinois was risking thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic benefit because of their continued failure to find ways to help the ailing industry.

Morgan, the legendary driver, trainer and breeder left Illinois last month and moved to Delaware where purses for harness racing are more attractive.

"When premier harness racing stars like Tony Morgan pull up stakes and move to another state, you know harness racing in Illinois is in serious trouble," said Martin Engel, new IHHA president.

"And Tony Morgan isn't the only one to leave Illinois. Dozens of other large owners, breeders and trainers, along with their horses, have left Illinois for greener pastures. If this continues much longer, Illinois will experience a huge negative impact to the agribusiness side of the industry."

Harness racing purses have edged toward historic lows ever since the advent of casino gambling in Illinois more than 12 years ago. Measures aimed at offering a bigger handle through more wagering opportunities at off-track betting parlors have failed to shore up the storied industry. Average purses on many nights at Balmoral Park in Illinois are often between $3,000 and $5,000 dollars, barely enough to pay to bring a horse to the track after winnings are split.

Most states that have horse racing have recognised the economic benefit of the sport and sought to help their equine industry through casino gambling revenue sharing or slot machines at the racetracks. Meanwhile, Illinois' political leaders have continued to ignore the problem.

As evidence of the decline of racing here, a leading Internet betting site recently downgraded Balmoral Park to "B" grade status, meaning it would no longer be viewed as a top venue.

"Unlike casino gambling where very few jobs are generated, horse racing has an immense infrastructure in place that supports tens of thousands of workers and infuses hundreds of millions of dollars into the state's economy," Engel said.

"Casinos have decimated our business and the public and our legislators need to understand that if we lose horse racing, Illinois loses more than a sport. We lose an enormous piece of our economy. I urge our lawmakers to act quickly and decisively to help our industry. To ignore our plight is penny wise and pound foolish."

ourtesy Of The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

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