An extended closed-door negotiating session Tuesday afternoon produced a rarity in Illinois horse racing these days -- a unified front among the racing industry.
And in the process, also produced what is probably the industry's best chance of averting potential disaster, a three-year extension of Illinois' Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) statute that, if renewed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, would provide the necessary funding for the Illinois Racing Board and ensure a full slate of horse racing in 2014.
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With the current ADW law set to expire on January 31, and the uncertainty of the legislature voting to renew or rewrite it looming -- thanks in large part to competing fronts within racing -- a united front seemed the industry's best hope.
In fact, members of the legislature have gone public in saying a unified front was the only way to move the process along.
And now thanks to the agreement hammered out Tuesday between thoroughbred and harness tracks, the horsemen, ADW, and members of the IRB, they've got it.
"This extension of the ADW law is critical to the success of the state's horse racing industry," said Tony Petrillo, general manager of Arlington International Racecourse. "The compromise agreement fairly distributes revenue without making any cuts to the 2014 racing schedule.
"The industry will work together to pass a bill that will ensure the survival of Illinois horse racing."
But time is very limited. The Illinois legislature is scheduled to meet for one day on Jan. 29, and may or may not convene sometime in December in hopes of averting the pension crisis.
Because of the uncertainty of when and if the ADW law would be renewed, the racing board, at its September meeting, produced four different schedules for the 2014 season, ranging from best-case scenario -- renewal of ADW and a return to racing as usual -- to worst case, which would mean a 49-day meet for Arlington, 15 days for Hawthorne Racecourse and just 13 total harness racing dates -- all at Balmoral Park.
Arlington officials have been adamant in their opposition to a surcharge, instead favoring a method where all the tracks pay to fund the IRB.
In the end, though, they agreed to a diminished surcharge number -- and that just might be what keeps racing going.