Legislative & News Update for Illinois Horsemen
From the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association
As Horsemen, We Advocate for Our Priorities
Because We Must
Dear Fellow Horsemen:
Why does a horsemen's organization have lobbyists?
For those of us in the leadership of Illinois horsemen's organizations, and who frequently find our membership on the receiving end of attempts to quiet our voices and undercut our interests, the answer is obvious. We need skilled and experienced professionals to help us guard against the constant efforts to overpower us.
We don't ask for this process to be adversarial. In fact, we'd prefer that it not be. But when we suggest that owners and trainers be entitled to a fair return on their enormous investment, or when we ask for minimum racing opportunities to help support the tens of thousands of jobs across Illinois that depend on our work, and we're then met with a blitz of name calling, finger pointing, lawyering and hostile lobbying, what are we to do?
Are we supposed to just roll over and accept whatever track management might be willing to share with us? Are we supposed to just stand by while owners and trainers receive a diminishing share of handle for their work, and while live racing opportunities are slashed, and while tracks use the recapture subsidy to divert purse dollars for their own operations? No. We must push back. We must stand together and advocate, as horsemen, for our collective interests.
It's been suggested that a horsemen's organization should not have lobbyists. While those of us dedicated to advocating on behalf of owners and trainers might be inclined to discount such a notion as absurd, the fact is that it encapsulates the vision of some in this industry. The ugly truth is that some would like nothing more than for us to be without lobbyists - indeed, for us to also be without professional support in the fields of communications and accounting. Why? Because we would then be defenseless to the crush of their power.
When we have lobbyists and other skilled advocates working on our behalf, and when we stay organized as horsemen behind a unified and coherent message, we level the playing field.
Advocating for Owners & Trainers
The fundamental nature of a horsemen's organization is well established in practice, in history, and in the law. In 1978, the strength of the horsemen in this nation was formally recognized with passage of the federal Interstate Horseracing Act. The law gives horsemen the express ability to advocate against the monopolistic interests of tracks, in part, by granting simulcast approval to "horsemen" - a group defined as "owners and trainers."
A horsemen's organization has three core responsibilities:
1) We advocate for the greatest share possible of the pari-mutuel dollar so that owners and trainers are fairly compensated for our investment and effort and so that owners, in particular, may reinvest in the business.
2) We provide benevolence programs for the backstretch workers - the individuals we employ to care for our horses.
3) We represent the collective interests of the owners and trainers at the tracks and before legislative and regulatory bodies.
Industry's Future at Stake
Across the nation, there are ongoing attempts to destabilize horsemen's groups. Yes, much of this debate relates to the use of race-day medication. But there is far more at stake - this is a fight over the appropriate sharing of revenue, the adequate level of racing opportunities, and, fundamentally, what the future of our sport will be.
In Illinois, we face an ongoing and intensifying effort to supplant the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association with a house organization. Behind the guise of a pledge to more effectively represent the interests of owners, this group has worked in lockstep with track management and promoted a campaign to undercut the horsemen - both owners and trainers - and re-engineer the entire horse racing industry to serve the desires of corporate executives and shareholders.
All Illinois horsemen - owners and trainers - should be paying close attention to this. As Alan Foreman, Chairman of the national Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, told me recently, "The last thing that horsemen would want would be a house organization purportedly representing their interests."
"Look at Virginia, there's no thoroughbred horse racing there," he said. "The track tried to form a house organization and nobody would recognize it. Now there's no racing. Anyone who seeks to destabilize the horsemen's organization is only creating a problem for everyone in the industry - the tracks, as well as the owners and trainers."
Should the effort to install a house organization in Illinois succeed, it would be devastating for owners and trainers alike. Our share of handle would slip even further given the inability of the house organization to challenge the wishes of track management. There would be no funding for benevolence toward the backstretch workers. And there would be no meaningful and independent advocacy on behalf of owners and trainers.
Moving Forward, As Horsemen
With the spring legislative session beginning this month, now is the time for all of us to work together. We must win passage and the governor's approval of the agreed gaming bill that will, finally, position Illinois horse racing to more adequately compete with racing in other states already permitting their tracks to supplement purses with slot revenue.
Illinois horsemen will be at the forefront of our industry's push for this bill. We look forward to seeing the other major stakeholders in this industry put their full might behind passage, as well.
Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association