Illinois Law Is Clear: The State Must Reimburse Purse Accounts After Tracks Take ‘Recapture’

ITHA, IHHA and ILHBPA Have Jointly Filed a Lawsuit In Cook County Circuit Court;
Click Here to View the Complaint

The 1995 state law that introduced simulcasting to Illinois authorized the practice of recapture, whereby a track is permitted to collect for itself dollars in the horsemen’s purse account, to hold tracks harmless in the event that simulcasting would later cannibalize live handle. 

By 1999, lawmakers recognized that recapture was adversely affecting purses and they amended state law to require the state to reimburse each purse account for the amount removed by each track. But unlike recapture – a concept familiar to every Illinois horseman – this provision of the law often is foreign to those of us racing here.

Why? Because the state is not honoring its commitment to make the purse accounts whole. The state initially replenished the purse accounts following passage of the reimbursement mandate. But for more than 14 years, Illinois lawmakers have failed to appropriate funds to reimburse the purse accounts as required by the law. 

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has filed a lawsuit to compel the state to rectify that. In our action filed before the Cook County Circuit Court, the ITHA has asked a judge to declare that the General Assembly is required annually to appropriate these certified “recapture” amounts for payment into the purse accounts. And we are asking the judge to order the Illinois comptroller to pay all amounts certified by the Illinois Racing Board for payment into the state’s thoroughbred and standardbred purse accounts.

The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association and the Illinois Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association joined the ITHA as plaintiffs, as did Mike Campbell, president of the ITHA, in his capacity as an owner. 

The premise of the Illinois Horse Racing Act is to share the benefits of racing equally between tracks and horsemen, who in turn procure services from backstretch workers, blacksmiths, veterinarians and numerous other professionals across the state while also buying goods from feed and hay suppliers and other vendors. By emphasizing the state’s interest in supporting jobs and agribusiness, the law reminds us that live racing supports revenue for public services and, ultimately, the interest of the state’s taxpayers.

But the balance of benefits between a track and horsemen, as intended by the legislature, is skewed when the state fails to replenish the funds in the purse account. Before recapture is applied, the split of handle between track commissions and purses earned is roughly 50/50. But after recapture, coupled with the absence of reimbursement by the state, northern Illinois tracks on average enjoy 63% of that handle – with just 37% left for the horsemen’s purse account. The law requiring the state to reimburse a purse account for recapture-related losses is designed precisely to ensure that the intended economic balance, between a track and horsemen, is maintained.

We will keep you apprised of developments related to this legal action. Please do not hesitate to visit the ITHA office, call us as (847) 577-6464, or email with any questions you have.

What Does Illinois Law Say?

“Annually, the General Assembly shall appropriate sufficient funds from the General Revenue Fund to the Department of Agriculture for payment into the thoroughbred and standardbred horse racing purse accounts at Illinois pari-mutuel tracks. The amount paid to each purse account shall be the amount certified by the Illinois Racing Board in January to be transferred from each account to each eligible racing facility in accordance with the provisions of this Section.”
Source: 230 ILCS 5/26(g)(13)

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