Brenda Watson has served on the Illinois Harness Horseman's Association (IHHA) for 13 years and for 13 years she has been lobbying to get slots installed at the State's two major harness racing tracks - Balmoral Park and Maywood Park.
Now with the advent of the third amendment imminent, both Watson and the IHHA are hopeful that slots might finally be established at the State’s two tracks.
“Every year since I have been here we have lived in hope. It would be nice to think that new amendment could be passed into law as early as next week but the Government has until May 31 to complete all of its legislation.
“We don’t know what’s in the bill until we read it, so at this stage we don’t know what’s being proposed and we can’t say if we are for or against it.
“The Government knows that the State is financially distressed so hopefully it will agree to the slots so we can get racing back to where it should be. We are confident but we also know nothing is guaranteed with this Government,” Watson told Harnesslink.
As well as being an ardent lobbyist for the rights of harness racing folk in Illinois, 52-year-old Watson is also the membership and grass roots co-ordinator for the IHHA.
She said when she started her employment with the Association just before the turn of the century there were about 40,000 people who worked in the Illinois harness racing industry.
“That number would be halved now – and breeding numbers have also been decimated. We badly need the slots and therefore larger purses to survive,” said Watson.
“The purse structure here is grossly inadequate,” she added.
Speaking from Fairfield in Illinois, Watson said both chambers green lighted to the introduction of slots last year but it was halted when Governor Pat Quinn didn’t sign it off.
“We have been told several times that the slots are coming but nothing has ever eventuated. We need to preserve our race dates and to know what percentage we will get.
“We just want to work alongside the Governor for the betterment of the whole industry. If not we will keep losing our horsemen to other States,” Watson said.
If slots were introduced into Illinois five tracks would benefit. These also include thoroughbred venues – Arlington Park, Fairmont Park and Hawthorne.
Watson said the slots was the obvious issue but the IHHA worked on numerous issues for the States leaders and legislators.
“Advanced deposit wagering is another piece of legislation we are working on,” Watson said.
Balmoral and Maywood Parks operate year round. The former races Wednesday, Saturday, and Sundays, while the latter operates on Thursday and Fridays.
“When I first started we raced year around seven days a week,” Watson said.
So who is Brenda Watson? She loves harness racing and is an owner. Her family is immersed in the sport, including a son who trains.
Find out more about Watson when Harnesslink profiles her in early May.
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By Duane RANGER (editor)