Metro-East News

Bill calls for wagering on historic horse races at tracks

A metro-east lawmaker has introduced a bill that would allow Illinois horse tracks to offer wagering on previously run horse races in addition to the live horse races that are held at the tracks and simulcast there.

Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, recently announced his bill that would permit horse tracks to have video machines that are similar to slot machines and display horse races from several years ago. The horses’ names are not displayed, and customers can place bets on the machines.

“Making the horse-racing industry more competitive is crucial to its longevity,” Kay said in a released statement. “For the last 15 years the legislature has been unable to reach an agreement to allow slot machines at Illinois horse racetracks. My bill offers an alternative if no agreement is made to provide slot machines at Fairmount Park Racetrack. I am not going to sit back and let an estimated 1,600 jobs be legislatively cut out of my district which is why I offered an alternative.”

The bill is the latest attempt by the state’s horse-racing industry to compete for gambling dollars with casinos in Illinois and neighboring states. Surrounding states such as Indiana and Iowa have legalized on-track slot machines, which have driven up daily purse winnings for horse owners, while Fairmount Park in Collinsville and the four other horse tracks in Illinois struggle to attract horse owners to their races because purses are exponential smaller. Those within the horse racing industry have argued that the state’s ongoing prohibition of on-track gaming have hurt horse racing in Illinois, which continues to lose live racing dates and horses to surrounding states where casinos exist inside tracks.

Fairmount Park president Brian Zander said the machines Kay is proposing to add at Illinois tracks look like slot machines, but provide video of previously-run races, allowing customers to place wagers. He said the machines have been used at horse-racing venues in Arkansas and were recently introduced in Kentucky, where they’ve been successful.

However, while Zander said Kay’s bill and efforts are appreciated, the Collinsville track has pledged its allegiance with the state’s other four tracks to another bill that would allow slot machines at tracks, just as recent bills over the past several years have attempted to accomplish.

“Our view is the larger gaming bill is really much more comprehensive in that it addresses more things with horse racing and provides different opportunities in terms of actually slots that would be involved in electronic games like blackjack and things like that. That would certainly be our preference,” he said.

Lanny Books, the executive director of the Illinois Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association in Collinsville, has often traveled to the state capital to lobby for gaming expansion at Illinois tracks over the last several years. He agreed with Zander that another gaming expansion bill is in the state horse racing industry’s best interests.

“Our official position is we appreciate the representative for trying to do something for us and his district, but it remains to be seen how that could compare to slots at tracks,” Brooks said. “I don’t know if the revenue would be there with instant racing machines.”

Kay said he is pushing his legislation and anticipates bringing his bill back to committee for a vote.

“The horse-racing industry and Fairmount Park has been a part of Illinois’ rich history for decades,” Kay said during his announcement. “I will do all I can to keep them racing for generations to come.”