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updated: 5/22/2011 7:51 AM

Thoroughbred assoc. chief: Horsemen would leave Arlington

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  • Michael B. Campbell

    Michael B. Campbell

By Michael Campbell |President, Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemenís Association Inc.

There is an adage that is relevant to the likely closing of Arlington Park if gaming legislation is not passed soon: You don't appreciate what you have until it is gone.

Since l927, more than eighty years ago, Arlington Park has been an integral component of Arlington Heights and surrounding municipalities, and is recognized worldwide as the home of the Arlington Million, one of the top turf races in the world.

This historic racetrack has survived many near catastrophic events including the Great Depression, World War ll, a major fire that destroyed the grandstand, and the advent of riverboat casinos in 1991, some 20 years ago.

However, recent events have posed the greatest threat to Arlington Park, the Illinois racing industry, and Arlington Park's place in the worldwide gaming world as the third largest market for horse racing.

One of the greatest threats to the sport of Illinois horse racing comes from Iowa, Indiana, and 12 other states that have passed legislation supporting their horse racing industries by allowing slots at race tracks.

The success of race tracks in Indiana and Iowa has been devastating to people in our state whose livelihoods depend on the horse racing industry -- from every farmer, breeder, horse owner and trainer, to jockeys, jockey agents and people that work at the racetrack.

As the state of Illinois is in the midst of a financial crisis, when unemployment is at a dangerously high level, why shouldn't legislators take the necessary steps to save an industry? Why let jobs and tax dollars go to Indiana and Iowa, when a single piece of legislation would be so beneficial to our state? Arlington has been able to stay afloat despite the assault leveled against it by riverboats and legislated benefits to riverboats that have allowed 10 licenses to exclusively control the Illinois' gaming market at the direct expense of Illinois historic 100-year-old horse racing and breeding industry, threatening tens of thousands agricultural jobs.

l have two sons who are jockeys. My son Jesse, one of Chicago's premier jockeys, has been forced to leave his home in Chicago to ride in Toronto at Woodbine Race Course. He has been driven from this area because of the current economics of Illinois racing.

I know trainers whose horse owners have demanded that they race their horses elsewhere because of higher purses at other tracks, in neighboring states that benefit from slots and casinos.

Some Illinois breeders are abandoning the business altogether or have decided to take their breeding operations to Indiana, Iowa, and elsewhere, where alternative gaming has benefited the breeding program. While the Illinois legislature drags its feet, neighboring states have taken full advantage of passing legislation to assist struggling state budgets.

As recently as January, our General Assembly turned away $1.6 billion in immediate revenue from increased gaming while at the same time raising income taxes 65 percent on Illinois citizens. This assault was manifested against the best interest of racing, even though it is a direct violation of the Illinois Horse Racing Act, which states the following:

GAMING (230 ILCS 5/) Illinois Horse Racing Act of t975 (a) Support and enhance Illinois' horse racing industry, which is a significant component within the agribusiness industry (b) Ensure that Illinois' horse racing industry remains competitive with neighboring states; (a) The General Assembly finds that the Illinois gaming industry is a single industry consisting of horse racing and riverboat gambling '

1. "share many of the same characteristics" and are "more alike than different";

Nationally, horse racing still enjoys its place holder status as the second-highest attended sport, but wagering on Illinois racing has precipitously fallen from third to fifth, behind California, New York, Kentucky and Florida, simply because of interference from neighboring states, legislated benefits to riverboats, and a fundamental failure by local and state government to support the horse racing gaming industry. All this at the direct expense of hundreds of families who simply have chosen to make their living in a field for which they are impassioned and a sport they love.