Editorials

Old gray mare ain’t what she used to be

Fairmount Park horse race track in Collinsville ready for new season, same old challenges

Fairmount Park horse race track executive director Brian Zander discusses the track's short new season for live racing and the ongoing financial challenges to the state's original form of legal gambling.
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Fairmount Park horse race track executive director Brian Zander discusses the track's short new season for live racing and the ongoing financial challenges to the state's original form of legal gambling.

“I don’t know what they have to say. It doesn’t matter anyway. Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

— Groucho Marx as Professor Wagstaff in “Horsefeathers,” or Illinois lawmakers on helping Fairmount Park’s finances.

We may be beating a dead horse here, but is there anything fair about how our state regulators and lawmakers have treated Fairmount Park? The horse race track is opening the weakest season ever with only 42 racing dates — 12 fewer than last year’s pathetic allotment.

Once, horse racing was Illinois’ only form of legal gambling. It fed the state well. It created a product: horses were bred, feed was grown, jobs were created to care for and train the horses.

As recently as 2000, little Fairmount Park was handling $47.2 million on its live racing dates. Last year that number was $18.4 million.

Adding the lottery, adding riverboat casinos, adding video gambling in every little tavern around has cost the horse race track. None of those other forms of gambling create a product and thus real wealth. They just move money from one pocket to another.

So when Fairmount Park President Brian Zander is asked what the track needs, the tale is very familiar: It needs video gambling. It serves liquor, which is our state’s prerequisite for getting video gaming, but it isn’t allowed to have even those five machines though the bar across the street and other horse tracks have them. It wasn’t allowed by the state to partner with the Casino Queen in East St. Louis. It couldn’t get lawmakers to OK video machines that allow bets on old races with those races’ identities masked.

Fairmount Park helped create Illinois gambling, but so many more have been brought to the trough that others ate most of the horse track’s means of offering race prizes and thus attracting horses and bettors. So many forms of relief have been blocked by Illinois leaders.

You have to wonder if this race is so rigged that the old nag must either learn to run on two legs or fall by the wayside and die.

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