Illinois Breeders Join Horsemen in Backing Lawsuit to Replenish Purse Accounts, but the Illinois Racing Board Declines to Participate

Statement from the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Illinois horsemen understand that purses must be much larger for our state's racing industry to once again be competitive with those in other jurisdictions such as New York, Indiana and Arkansas.

Breeders recognize this, too, and together we are taking action to make that happen. A lawsuit we support in Cook County Circuit Court, if successful, will compel the state to follow the law and replenish the horsemen's purse accounts after tracks, as a function of "recapture," take for themselves dollars intended for purses. 

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association filed the lawsuit in concert with the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association and the Illinois Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association. Mike Campbell, president of the ITHA, is a plaintiff in his capacity as an owner. And now, we are proud to report, the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation also has joined as a plaintiff.

"Recapture has sucked the life out of Illinois horse racing," said John Haran, the ITBOF's president. "We obviously need other gaming options at the tracks to supplement purses, and we continue to lobby state lawmakers for that. But in the meantime, we absolutely must counter the crushing blow of recapture. Our lawsuit is geared to do just that."

State law requires the Illinois General Assembly to "appropriate sufficient funds" for payment to the purse accounts in amounts equal to those that the Illinois Racing Board permits tracks to take away from them. But the state - for 17 years - has failed to follow the law and make that reimbursement. Our litigation is aimed at holding the purse accounts harmless from the effect of recapture - as the law intends - so that purse levels reflect the percentage of handle they have earned.

IRB Declines to Participate

Illinois horsemen and breeders were hopeful the IRB, as the state's ranking authority on recapture, would file with the judge a "friend of the court" brief to share its expert opinion on the implications of recapture and the state's failure to follow the law. Such filings, known by the legal term amicus curiae, are submitted by those who are not a party to a case but nonetheless wish to provide, to the court, their own expertise or insight that is germane to the subject at hand.

Commissioner Thomas McCauley, an attorney, first raised the option of an amicus brief expressing the IRB's view when he said, during the IRB's November meeting, that an amicus filing with the court would "have more teeth than a letter that would be ignored." McCauley also shared at that time that he "wouldn't be surprised if [our] litigation is successful."

The IRB did at its March meeting consider a request, put forward by three commissioners, for it to pursue an amicus brief. But the board, with a 5 to 3 vote, defeated that request. We applaud Commissioners Hugh Scates, Robert Muriel and Robert Schiewe, Jr. for supporting the effort. Commissioner McCauley did not attend the meeting. Jeffrey Brincat, the IRB chairman, and Commissioner Shelley Kalita also were absent.

The board's deliberations on this question occurred behind closed doors at the urging of Commissioner Gregory Sronce and the board's attorney. The board posted to its website an audio recording of that closed-door session but, curiously, later removed it. (Separately, the IRB recently deleted from its official "Recapture Through the Years" table, a document appearing on its site, any mention of the state's past replenishment of purses.)

"The IRB rolls out the red carpet for the tracks, but not so much for horse owners and the workers of racing," said Mike Campbell, the ITHA president. "It's live racing and overnight purses that support owners and breeders and the jobs of trainers, hay and feed suppliers, veterinarians, blacksmiths, backstretch workers and countless others at the tracks and throughout agribusiness. The IRB's responsibility to stand up for the stakeholders of this industry doesn't begin and end with ensuring that tracks can take the maximum amount of recapture from horsemen's purses each year."

Compelling the State to Follow the Law

Illinois horsemen and breeders remain committed to winning passage of legislation that will: 1) permit other gaming options at tracks for the express purpose of generating revenue to boost purses (as other leading racing jurisdictions already have done); and 2) abolish the practice of recapture. We will not halt the exodus of racing jobs from our state, preserve what remains of breeding, attract additional bettors, and, ultimately, grow field size and handle, until overnight purses in Illinois racing are substantially improved. But absent an act by legislators to end recapture, or a move by regulators or tracks to halt the practice, enforcing the law and requiring the state to replenish the purse accounts will, at least in the short term, help stabilize this industry.

Tracks rely on the statute when they annually take dollars from the horsemen's purse accounts. Horsemen and breeders are simply asking a court to ensure that the state also honors the law by making those accounts whole. The ITHA, IHHA, ILHBPA and ITBOF believe it is past time for the state to follow the law.