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updated: 1/24/2014 8:23 AM

Arlington season's fate rests with lawmakers

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  • Lawmakers face a stark deadline for the horse racing industry next week.

      Lawmakers face a stark deadline for the horse racing industry next week.
    File photo

 
 

If you watch Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State speech Wednesday and see some lawmakers in the crowd nervously checking their watches, it might not be because he's been talking so long.

A stark deadline faces the horse racing industry, its fans and state officials at the end of next week. The Illinois Racing Board is set to meet next Friday, the day the state law allowing online horse betting expires.

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If lawmakers don't extend it, the board won't have the money it needs to regulate a full racing season. In that case, its members have laid out a plan to cut the live racing season for Arlington International Racecourse in half.

Track General Manager Tony Petrillo said an abbreviated season would mean cuts to its 140-member permanent staff and Arlington might need only about half of its usual 2,000 seasonal workers.

"There's just so much at stake," Petrillo said. "There's a lot of jobs that are dependent on the passage of this legislation," he said.

But there's still a week left

Lawmakers are set to meet only Wednesday next week, the same day Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to give his state of the state address. The pomp-laden day is typically consumed by the postgame criticisms and plaudits of the governor, followed by a race to get out of Springfield and back home.

Not much else gets done.

What's the good bet?

State Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat carrying the legislation, said he doesn't know if he'll be allowed to call for a vote.

"I wish I did," Rita said.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who typically controls the flow of proposals, was noncommittal. Spokesman Steve Brown said it is still under review.

The legislation would extend online horse betting by three years and provide the racing board with the money it needs to regulate full seasons.

Rita says he wants a vote and counts some pragmatic problems among his concerns. "If we do call it, what's the attendance?" Rita said. "Do people walk out after the speech?"

Wiggle room?

A spokesman for the racing board said he can't say whether the Jan. 31 deadline can be moved back, giving lawmakers a little breathing room.

Even if that happened, time is tight because Illinois racing starts in February.

"This industry is based on having a place to race," said Glen Berman, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

Unemployment push

Democratic U.S. Reps. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates and Brad Schneider of Deerfield are continuing to push for an extension of unemployment benefits ahead of next week's State of the Union address.

Schneider will be in Waukegan today at the Job Center of Lake County to talk to people who have lost their jobs.

Duckworth will be in Schaumburg to talk about the same topic with local business groups.

Thousands of Illinoisans lost unemployment benefits at the end of last year after Congress didn't extend the standard 26-week benefits.

Honoring Hyde

In a U.S. House floor speech this week, Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Wheaton Republican, railed against abortion by praising the late U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde as "another warrior for life and my hero and mentor."

Hultgren praised the Hyde Amendment, a provision attached to legislation over the years that prohibits Medicaid benefits from paying for abortions.

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