Audit: Racing industry waiting for millions

2013-04-25T21:21:00Z Audit: Racing industry waiting for millionsJOHN O'CONNOR AP Political Writer nwitimes.com
April 25, 2013 9:21 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD | Illinois lawmakers never changed state law to allow the transfer of tens of millions of dollars due to the state's horse racing industry, so the money is sitting unused in a Gaming Board account, an audit released Thursday found.

Money from a riverboat casino that opened in Des Plaines nearly two years ago is generating the money — according to horse racing officials, more than $115 million so far that was supposed to alleviate casino wagering's impact on horse tracks.

Auditor General William Holland's report of the Des Plaines boat's gross receipts, said 15 percent is supposed to go to a Horse Racing Equity Fund and 2 percent to Chicago State University. The audit through June 2012 found $59 million owed to the horse racing fund and $7.9 million due Chicago State.

Nearly $120 million in horse racing money has accumulated, officials said.

"The horsemen have been trying to break that money loose since it started flowing in there," said Andrew Mack, a representative of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association.

The Gaming Board responded in the audit that it is working with Gov. Pat Quinn's administration to fix the problem.

Horse racing industry authorities have watched a steady decline in a once-prosperous sport in Illinois since riverboat casinos debuted in 1992. Mack said purses totaled $41.7 million two decades ago; last year, they topped out at $24.3 million.

Supporters have clamored for more than a decade because when riverboats were allowed to remain docked, impact fees they say should total $100 million a year were supposed to be set aside for racing have never materialized.

By the middle of the last decade, they had been able to win 3 percent of some casino revenues, but it turned out to be a short-lived victory, because that money was scheduled to end either when Des Plaines opened, or the Legislature approved a law allowing racetracks to add slot machines, said Glen Berman, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

Quinn vetoed two gambling expansion bills from 2011 and 2012 that included so-called "racinos" — the Senate is considering a third attempt this spring — and the money from Des Plaines never got distributed.

"It seems like there's always a catch," Berman said.

And there's no guarantee all the money will ever get to the racing industry. Legislation in the last session of the General Assembly would have transferred $17. 6 million from the state gaming fund to the Horse Racing Equity Fund and $70.4 million to a schools fund. Horse racing officials fear that legislation will resurface with the state facing budget problems.

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