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updated: 9/24/2013 4:55 PM

Racing Board lays out best-to-worse options

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  • With the Illinois Racing Board unsettled over its funding, the start of the 2014 thoroughbred racing season remains uncertain. The IRB has laid out for possibilities as it awaits funding from the state legislature to be renewed.

      With the Illinois Racing Board unsettled over its funding, the start of the 2014 thoroughbred racing season remains uncertain. The IRB has laid out for possibilities as it awaits funding from the state legislature to be renewed.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

Talk about hedging your bets.

That's exactly what the Illinois Racing Board did Tuesday when it issued four alternate schedules for the upcoming 2014 thoroughbred racing season, a season that could see the live racing schedule dramatically reduced at Chicago's suburban tracks.

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Dramatically as in just 15 live racing dates for Hawthorne Racecourse and only 49 for Arlington International Racecourse in 2014 as part of a worst-case scenario laid out by the board, one of four proposals it presented Tuesday.

But why four different proposed schedules?

Well, because so much depends on what happens in Springfield with the Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) statute concerning Internet betting, and whether or not it is extended by the legislature before it expires on Jan. 14.

This year, it wasn't extended this year until the spring, and it cost the IRB, which is partially funded by ADW, approximately $750,000 in tax revenues.

If there is another such delay, and there isn't also supplemental funding for this year's lost revenues, the IRB says it will run out of funds to regulate a live racing schedule similar to what it approved for 2013, forcing cuts in live racing to accommodate the shortfall.

Thus, the four alternate schedules presented, ranging from worst-case to best-case scenarios and covering every option in between, making for one of the most interesting days in the history of horse racing in Illinois and perhaps signaling the end of the game as most racing fans know it.

"We now see that the race dates are in the hands of the legislators," said Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo, who pointed out that his track is the only one that turns a profit. "It used to be in the hands of the racing board only, but that power has now been transferred. (With the supplemental funding request) it will now be the taxpayers paying for the regulation of racing.

"With the state in the condition it's in, is it likely that the legislature is going to provide a handout to the racing board to regulate racing of tracks that don't return a profit to the state, but rather drain the state?"

Are you saying Arlington should be the only track that should be running?

"No, what I'm saying is, with a business plan for racing, investing your resources in the only track that is profitable for the state, was an alternative that should've been explored. I think there's a place for each of the other tracks, but it's just how much racing is done at those tracks and the opportunities that are available to them.

"We're looking at the legislature to solve our problems instead of the industry solving it and maximizing revenues to the state. The bottom line is there's more racing out there in Illinois than there is demand for it across the country.

"So it's: how do you manage a race schedule that maximizes the profits for the state and minimized the losses?"

The best-case scenario, as presented by the board, would include a prompt ADW extension (by Jan. 31) and supplemental funding of at least $725,000 that would make up for the money lost this year.

If that happens, things would be similar to past schedules as Arlington would be granted 89 racing days from April 28 through Sept. 30 (4 days a week), and the track would be the dark host for simulcasting from Jan. 1-23. Hawthorne would race 100 days in spring and fall (Feb. 21-April 27, and Oct. 1-Dec. 31) and would receive a dark hosting period from Jan. 24 through Feb. 20.

In the worst-case scenario (no supplemental funding and no ADW money), Arlington would have 49 live programs (3 days a week) from May 1 through Aug. 20 and would be dark host from Jan. 1-30 and Sept. 21 through Oct. 31. Hawthorne would host 15 live programs from Aug. 21 through Sept. 20 and their dark hosting periods would be Feb. 1 through April 30 and Nov. 1 through Dec. 31.

Though it would be difficult to imagine Hawthorne running a 15-day meet, Petrillo said Arlington would go ahead with its 49-day schedule, even though track officials wouldn't be overjoyed about it.

"Arlington feels an obligation to do that," he said, noting that it might be a hard sell to the parent company, Churchill Downs Inc.

As for Hawthorne and a possible 15-day meet?

"I don't know if they are going to be able to survive or not, but in that one scenario they are provided a lot of host time, which provides them with a great revenue source without incurring expenses," Petrillo said.

In between the best and worst is the second worst-case scenario: the IRB receives supplemental funding but ADW isn't renewed by Jan. 31.

In that case, Arlington would get 68 live racing programs from May 2 through Sept. 28 (3 days per week) and would be dark host from Jan. 1-31. Hawthorne would host 50 live programs: March 7 through May 1 and Sept. 29 through Nov. 30 (each running 3 days a week) and would be dark host from Feb. 1 though March 6 and Dec. 1-31.

The second-best scenario (no supplemental funding but ADW renewed) would mean a schedule of 89 live dates for Arlington (April 28 through Sept. 30) and a dark host period from Jan. 1-18. Hawthorne would get 81 live programs divided three ways: Feb. 28 through April 27, Oct. 1 through Nov. 16 and Dec 12-31) and dark host periods of Jan. 19 through Feb. 27, and Nov. 17 through Dec. 11.

Each scenario is dependent upon a supplemental appropriation to fund the deficit of the Illinois Racing Board that all the other tracks create, and the passage of ADW, Petrillo said, adding, "It's all in the hands of the legislature."

What if neither one of those comes to fruition, are we looking at the slow death of horse racing in Illinois?

"Well," Petrillo said. "We're optimistic but it's going to be a challenge."

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