The Illinois House Agriculture Committee today passed and sent House Bill 26 to the floor to repeal the decade old purse recapture law, an unfunded mandate from the state which has given more than $110 million to racetracks at the expense of rank and file horsemen and their families.
“I am very pleased with the passage of this legislation and look forward to debating it on the floor,” said Representative Art Turner (D-Chicago). “It will provide a much needed degree of equity for horsemen and their families across Illinois.”
Since 1995, racetracks have had the authority to remove money from the purses which belong to horsemen. Known as “purse recapture,” this statutory authority improperly awards a percentage of purse money to track owners when track revenues drop from 1994 levels. While revenues for horse purses have also dropped since 1994, horsemen were not awarded the same safety net. Beginning in 1999, the General Assembly mandated that the state “reimburse” horsemen for the money the state allows the racetracks to take out of purses.
Purses were reimbursed for recapture in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Since 2001, state government has not lived up to this obligation and is in arrears to purses by more than $110 million. As a result, purses available to horsemen have declined by almost 30% in just the last five years.
“Wealthy racetrack owners have profited at our expense under the recapture law for ten years and it is time to restore some equity to the split of the wagered dollar in Illinois,” said Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association (IHHA) president Dave McCaffery. “This law needs to be abolished so that thousands of hard-working horsemen from across this state can put food on their tables. Horsemen are the horse racing industry, not the racetrack owners. Unfortunately, some lawmakers have wrongly associated horse racing with the racetracks, and they have rewarded the tracks with favorable legislation at the expense of the industry. Fans go to see horses and not tracks; fans bet on horses and not tracks; fans are watching horses and jobs leaving Illinois but the tracks are not going anywhere."
IHHA executive director Tony Somone added, “We are asking for lawmakers to restore fairness to horse racing and, in the process, stimulate Illinois’ economy. Recapture has caused Illinois’ economy to suffer as prominent owners, trainers, breeders and drivers have fled to other states to race for bigger purse stakes.”
The horse racing industry once employed over 40,000 people but has contracted significantly, contributing to the rise in unemployment and stagnation in local economic activity. High unemployment rates in many rural communities can be linked, in part, to the decline of horse racing. At the same time, fans no longer find Illinois horseracing interesting because the best horses, trainers, and drivers are racing at venues out of state where purses are higher. In 2006, ‘Illinois handle,’ the amount bet on horse races of both breeds, dropped under $1 billion for the first time in more than 20 years.
“When recapture is repealed, the amount of money that would be restored to harness purses is estimated at $4.5 million annually, a relatively small amount to the tracks, but a lifeline to horsemen,” said IHHA treasurer Bill Hunter. “Until then, many horsemen will continue to drop out of the business because they see fewer opportunities to be economically viable. Those who are staying, in many cases, have downsized their stables and laid off workers.”