SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois horse racing industry could find itself in a bind if lawmakers don't renew a law that expires early next year.
Legislation allowing online betting on horse racing expires at the end of January. Race dates at Illinois racetracks would be severely cut if lawmakers don't take action to renew the betting law and give the state's racing board access to the money the wagering generates -- about 30 percent of the board's annual budget. The racing board is also seeking supplemental funding from lawmakers to cover a $725,000 shortfall from the spring, when the Legislature failed to renew the online betting law for several months.
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The issue could come up when the General Assembly convenes Tuesday. It could be part of a debate over a larger gambling expansion package next year.
Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association President Dave McCaffrey calls the situation a "crucial moment in Illinois racing." McCaffrey told association members in an Oct. 17 letter that there have been numerous meetings in recent weeks with lawmakers, and it is his "great hope that an agreement will be reached and a bill is passed."
Officials from Arlington International Racecourse have also spent recent weeks lobbying officials to extend the current law.
"This form of wagering is the only type of activity that has shown growth in the last three years providing purses to the horsemen and commission to the track to offset some of the increasing costs of conducting racing," Arlington Vice President Jim Stumpf said in a statement provided to The Associated Press, adding "Current law must be extended without a sunset to enable racing to survive in this state."
However, the (Bloomington) Pantagraph reports that Gov. Pat Quinn's office says lawmakers must fix the state's pension crisis before the Chicago Democrat considers anything else.
Amid such uncertainty, the racing board has approved four different schedules for 2014. Under the worst-case scenario, if the law is not extended and the board is given no extra money, racing dates would be cut by more than 80 percent -- with just 87 dates next year divided among the state's four racetracks. There were 466 racing days in 2013.