Fairmount: Season will be slashed if lawmakers don't extend online wagering

News-DemocratJanuary 27, 2014 

A horse and rider take off from the starting gate during a training session at Fairmount Park.

DERIK HOLTMANN/BND

Unless state lawmakers can agree to continue allowing betting online for Illinois horse track racing, Fairmount Park will see its upcoming live racing season reduced significantly, from 69 live dates last year to 10 dates this year.

The length of the 2014 season at Fairmount Park hinges on whether state legislators agree to a three-year extension for advanced deposit wagering, or ADW, which would allow online wagering on horse races in the Land of Lincoln.

The law expires Friday, and both the House and Senate are expected to reconvene this week. Both, along with Gov. Pat Quinn, need to approve the move.

A spokesman from Quinn's office said the governor supports the extension.

"The governor supports extending advanced deposit wagering," said spokesman David Blanchette. "The governor intends to sign it if it reaches his desk."

If they approve the wagering plan, the Collinsville horse track will see 52 race dates this season. If not, the track's schedule will be cut to 10 dates.

Fairmount Park President Brian Zander said about 80 percent of the track's employees will probably be laid off for the season.

"It's kind of important to us," Zander said. "It's definitely coming at the last minute."

At issue is the funding that online horse race betting brings.

Zander said that advanced deposit wagering has generated roughly $1.5 million a year for Fairmount Park between 2010 and 2012. That money has been split between the track and the horsemen. The track contributes its share to the prize money, or purses, awarded.

According to Illinois Racing Board Executive Director Marc Laino, a third of the board's revenue also is derived from Internet-based wagering. The board also collects a pari-mutuel tax to help fund the board, which staffs regulatory operations at the state's five horse tracks.

Limited funding reduces the number of days that the board can staff the tracks for live race dates.

"It's crucial for the operation of the board," Laino said. "We derive a lot of our revenue operations and budget from pari-mutuel taxes and ADW. Its absence would create quite a deficit for our operations."

Fairmount Park Director of Racing Bobby Pace said extending online wagering is crucial to the metro-east track. He said no vote would be dire to the track and the entire horse racing industry in Illinois.

"It will really have a negative impact on us and a tremendously negative impact on the industry," Pace said.

Advanced deposit wagering was first permitted in Illinois in 2009 and initially was in effect for three years from 2010 through 2012. Also in 2009, Fairmount Park established an affiliation with online wagering site tvg.com. Fairmount Park has been receiving a cut of the profits from any bet placed in Illinois through the company's Web site.

The wagering law was extended last year, but not until the end of May, when the provision had expired for five months. Laino said the Illinois horse racing industry lost an estimated $750,000 of funding that it would have received from online wagering while lawmakers negotiated the extension.

Lanny Brooks, executive director of the Illinois Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association in Collinsville, has also been a lobbyist for the state's horse racing industry and is optimistic that an extension will be granted.

He said the governor's office has indicated that Quinn is interested in signing an extension immediately.

Brooks also said there are more than enough votes in the House to approve the extension. If both the House and Senate approve the move, he anticipates the governor could sign the legislation soon after he makes his state of the state address Wednesday.

"We have a shot," Brooks said. "We have an awful lot riding on it. The entire industry does. We definitely have the votes and we will have no problem passing the bill."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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