Day At The Track

Illinois racing to boom with Gaming Bill Law

05:22 AM 29 Jun 2019 NZST
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HINSDALE, Ill. - The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association (IHHA) applauds the signing of gaming legislation by Governor Pritzker today. The legislation will revolutionize and reinvigorate horse racing in Illinois leading to the creation of thousands of new agriculture jobs.

"We've been working on this legislation for what seems like forever," said IHHA Executive Director Tony Somone. "Our team has never lost sight of the working men and women who earn their living in Illinois horse racing. We continued to work until literally the last minutes to make sure that horsemen would have the ability to prosper into the future because of this gaming package. A new day is dawning for our industry."

Illinois horsemen have fought for years for casino-style gaming at racetracks which has been used by other horse racing states to boost purses and revive the breeding industry. Over the years, Illinois harness racing - once a premier harness destination in the United States - has been decimated as horsemen moved their farms and employees to other states that offered more opportunity because of slot machines at racetracks.

"Because of this bill, I can stay in Illinois to raise my family," said IHHA Board Member and harness racing driver and trainer Juan Franco.

Not only will horsemen see their purse winnings grow with the introduction of casino games at racetracks, the widely despised and unfair practice of purse recapture will end with the passage of this legislation. Furthermore, horsemen will have guaranteed live racing opportunities that will enable them to call Illinois home all year long.

"The passing of this Legislation in Illinois is game changing for horseman," said IHHA Board Member Angie Coleman. "It's going to put us back on the map as a major player in harness racing in North America. It will attract the top horses, drivers, trainers, grooms and breeders which in turn equates to jobs in Illinois."

Securing added money specifically for Illinois-bred horses will also rejuvenate horse breeding which is one of the linchpins of horse racing's economic impact in agriculture.

"We're going to see a resurgence in Standardbred breeding," said IHHA Board Member Ed Teefy. "It will take a few years to get the numbers up because there's a lot that goes into a breeding farm and the industry will be hungry for employees to work at those farms."

In 2018 there were 124 Standardbred horses foaled. That's down from a peak of more than 2,000 foals in the 1980's. From foaling to the racetrack, a racehorse directly impacts numerous different jobs such as breeders and their farm help, grooms, trainers, and drivers. They indirectly employ many more like blacksmiths, veterinarians, hay and grain farmers and dealers, and truck and trailer dealers. Jobs at the racetrack like tellers, bartenders, servers, marketing and accounting people, and the track crews will all exist and prosper because of this legislation.
 
"The ripple effect of our industry on Illinois economy is wide and difficult to grasp sometimes," said IHHA President Marty Engel. "It was one of our missions to make sure that our economic impact was understood as valuable."

Another achievement of the legislation is language that will allow for a new Standardbred only racino to be opened somewhere in the Chicago region. Currently, Standardbred racing only happens at Hawthorne Racetrack which splits it's time between Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing.

The Illinois State fairs at Springfield and DuQuoin and the County fairs up and down the state, long a staple of the industry, will see a significant increase in purses as this legislation has earmarked purse dollars specifically for Illinois Conceived and Foaled races. County Fairs are the training ground for many horses and aspiring horsemen and the boost to purses means that more young people will see the opportunities to make a living. This will lead to more horses being bred and eventually racing and creating more demand for agricultural services like veterinarians and blacksmiths, as well as agriculture products like grain and hay.

"This gaming bill is going to have a tremendous impact on horseracing which has an immense impact on agriculture across the state," said Somone.

The IHHA also extends their sincerest gratitude to former Governor Jim Edgar for his longtime dedication to horse racing in Illinois. His knowledge of the industry and his experience in Illinois government were vital to the passage of fair legislation that included horse racing.
 
Mack Communications
540 W. 35th St.
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Chicago, IL 60616
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