The Illinois Racing Board agreed at its July 26 meeting to move forward with planning for implementation of wagering on historical horse racing terminals through the state’s three remaining racetracks.
Without objection, the full board accepted a report from a committee headed by commissioner Thomas McCauley that found historical horse racing is pari-mutuel wagering, as defined under Illinois law, and could be implemented without legislative action.
By accepting the report, the board also agreed that staff “be directed to draft suggested rules to be considered by the board, whereby organization licensees could lawfully and permissibly conduct historical horse racing.”
Before historical horse racing can become a reality, those rules would have to be approved by the IRB and the governor’s staff, then submitted to and approved by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. A court challenge also would be likely, as anti-gambling groups steadfastly oppose any expansion.
McCauley and chairman Jeffrey Brincat emphasized historical horse racing—a slot machine-like game with pari-mutuel pools and payouts based on results of previously run races—is the industry’s second choice to legislation that would authorize full casino gaming at tracks. A gaming expansion bill was left pending in Springfield, Ill., at the end of the spring legislative session but could be revived in the post-election veto session.
“Were that to happen, the HHR committee suspects that HHR might then be dropped for the much more lucrative games, which the casinos have,” McCauley said. “But that is speculation, and we have to deal with the reality that confronts us.”
Asked whether HHR rules might be ready to roll out in November, absent legislative action on gaming expansion, Brincat said he believes the process will be “expeditious.” But he warned delays are possible in a complicated legal and political environment.
Fairmount Park in downstate Collinsville, Ill., and Hawthorne Race Course in suburban Chicago actively support the historical horse racing proposal. Arlington International Racecourse, the report noted, is neutral.
McCauley said the Illinois horse racing industry “is in a desperate economic condition. It is not hyperbolic to say that its viability is in doubt. Two of five tracks have closed in the last several years. The live dates of certain Thoroughbred race meetings have declined by 40% or more.”
The report noted that Illinois racing has not been allowed to compete with tracks that have gaming in nearby states.
“This may seem shocking at first blush,” the report said, “but for those of us who have witnessed the industry’s steady downward spiral, caused almost entirely by the state government’s refusal over the last 17 years to allow meaningful competition (with other states), that tragedy does not shock. Indeed, it undoubtedly was inevitable.”