Illinois horse racing wants you to bet on the past so it has a future

So what sucker would gamble on a horse race that already ran? The Illinois Racing Board bets that you would.

The board unanimously backed historical horse racing, which is a video gaming system based on a database of about 60,000 past races. All the identifying information is stripped out so you can't just look up the race results, but they do give the Daily Racing Form stats that would allow you to better pick the winner.

Or at least you could.

In reality, most folks in the five states where it currently is legal skip the video of the race and go right to the results. They also have a "handi helper" feature that does the picking for you.

Sounds a whole lot like a slot machine, where there's no skill involved in predicting the outcome and you have a simple game of chance. That's the objection of gambling opponents.

The racing board's lawyer is also troubled. He described the rules they want drafted as figuring out how to do something that can't legally be done.

But the desperate folks at Fairmount Park see it as part of their survival. They just cut their live racing season down to Labor Day, skipping most of September.

"This is legally supportable," said Fairmount attorney William Berry. "The Illinois Racing Board can declare this a pari-mutuel bet."

But then they need to get their rules past a committee of state lawmakers. Lawmakers for decades have refused to allow slots at the tracks.

Of all the Illinois forms of gambling, horse racing is the least popular and continues shrinking at the remaining three tracks. The horse tracks certainly have better potential to create real value in the economy, but they will continue to die unless they can figure out a way to draw new gamblers and the state stops adding new ways to gamble — more casinos and sports betting remain on the horizon.

Betting on old horse races just doesn't sound like it would draw many people. It does seem like an end run on Illinois' slot prohibitions.