Illinois horse racing industry anxious over online betting deal

2014-01-29T00:00:00Z Illinois horse racing industry anxious over online betting dealKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
January 29, 2014 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | It could be a make or break day for Illinois' horse racing industry.

An estimated 15,000 horse owners, trainers, jockeys and stable-hands are hoping the Illinois House approves a measure that will allow for a normal season of racing at the state's horse tracks.

At stake is a three-year agreement among horse racing interests to extend what is known as advanced deposit wagering, which allows bettors to wager on races online.

Money raised through online betting helps finance the Illinois Gaming Board. If the wagering isn't approved, the gaming board says it will be forced to drastically reduce the number of racing dates at tracks.

Today is the last day the House is scheduled to meet before the Illinois Racing Board's Friday deadline to have an ADW agreement in place.

Gov. Pat Quinn also is scheduled to deliver his State of the State address. Typically, lawmakers don't do much work the day of that speech.

Michael Belmonte, the general manager of Maywood and Balmoral racetracks, said racing officials are trying to work out some deal with the General Assembly’s leadership that extends Friday’s deadline and buy more time for legislators to act.

“They may need a couple more days, or a couple of more weeks,” Belmonte said. “We’re hoping that a little more time will allow for a deal to be approved so that there’s no harm to racing.”

If no deal is reached, Belmonte said that racing dates at both Balmoral and Maywood would have to be reduced, probably in the form of a later starting date for the racing season this year. “If no deal is passed, it would affect our schedule,” he said.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said Friday he is not sure the issue — which already has won approval in the Senate — will be voted on.

“It's under review,” Brown said of the legislation.

But, Brown added the speaker is cognizant of the Racing Board's deadline.

“We recognize the calendar,” he said.

The legislation is Senate Bill 66.

Times Correspondent Gregory Tejeda contributed to this story.

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