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Illinois Gaming Bill Advances, But Major Obstacles Remain

The Gaming Bill Has Left the Gate in Springfield,
But It Remains a Long Way from the Finish Line
And Must First Navigate Heavy Traffic

Statement from Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Dear Fellow Horsemen:

The Illinois Senate on Tuesday advanced the latest iteration of gaming expansion legislation that would allow slots at tracks for the purpose of enhancing purses. Senators voted 31-26 in favor of the bill, providing one more vote than the 30 votes necessary for passage. 

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association is encouraged by this action. If this legislation is approved and signed into law, Illinois racing will again compete with tracks in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and other states already using gaming revenue to boost purses. The bill would establish agreed rates to support purses (from gaming positions hosted at the tracks) and guarantee live racing opportunities. It also would eliminate "recapture," the woeful practice of tracks taking horsemen's purse dollars to subsidize their own operations.

However, it's important to recognize that major hurdles remain:

•             This legislation, known as Senate Bill 7, is tied to approximately a dozen other bills formulated as a "grand bargain" intended to break the Illinois government's ongoing impasse over the lack of a budget and related matters. As currently conceived, each of these bills may become law only if all of them do. The other measures include a budget for the remainder of this fiscal year and cover changes to workers' compensation, public pensions and school funding, among other matters. To be sure, the "grand bargain" is sweeping, ambitious and not without controversy.

•             If the Senate succeeds in passing this collection of bills to the House, it remains unclear how House members will respond. They could vote on the Senate's package as is, modify it and send it back to the Senate, ignore the Senate bills and consider legislation of their choosing, or simply do nothing. House leaders have not participated in the Senate's negotiations.

•             While Gov. Bruce Rauner used his budget address on Feb. 15 to offer his perspective and certain conditions relative to the legislation coming together in the Senate, it remains unclear whether lawmakers ultimately will approve legislation that comports with his desired framework. Thus, the governor's position on the gaming bill - and any other legislation linked to it - cannot be discerned. 

As we say in racing, this legislation is a long way from the finish line and, before getting there, must navigate heavy traffic. But it has left the gate and that is no small accomplishment for horsemen and other Illinois racing stakeholders.