Down the stretch they come: Fairmount's season is saved

News-DemocratJanuary 29, 2014 

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

DERIK HOLTMANN/BND

The upcoming season at Fairmount Park will not be reduced as state lawmakers have agreed to continue horse track race betting online in Illinois for three more years.

In a last-minute move Wednesday afternoon, legislators who were already in the state capitol for the governor's state of the state address also managed to squeeze in a vote to extend online betting, known as advanced deposit wagering, allowing web-based wagering on horse racing in the Land of Lincoln. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would sign the bill if it reached his desk.

This means there will be 52 live race dates at the Collinsville track this season. The law was set to expire by the end of the week unless both the House, Senate and then the governor approved an extension. If they did not, the track's season would have been reduced to 10 dates.

Lanny Brooks, executive director of the Illinois Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association in Collinsville, was in Springfield Tuesday working as a lobbyist on behalf of the state's horse racing industry. He said more than enough lawmakers supported the extension: 95 out of 118 representatives and 47 out of 59 senators supported the measure.

"Everybody is very happy and relieved," Brooks said. "It couldn't have gone better. We're were very, very happy."

Fairmount Park President Brian Zander was also relieved. He also was in Springfield Wednesday and had estimated that had the provision not been extended, about 80 percent of the track's employees would have been laid off for the season.

"Obviously, everyone at Fairmount Park is very pleased that we can now at least go ahead and totally plan for the 2014 meet," Zander said.

Zander also said that the online betting program 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 those who work with the horses there.

The track contributes its share to the prize money, or purses, that are awarded. It has also provided about one-third of the Illinois Racing Board's budget used to regulate the state's horse racing industry.

"These will be 52 of the best days in the history of Fairmount," Zander said. "We plan to put together a great show with great promotions."

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

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