Illinois Looks At Historic Horse Racing To Revive Industry
Illinois horse tracks are looking to the past to help bolster their future.
Last week the Illinois Racing Board pushed forward a proposal to legalize gambling on videos of past horse races. The legalization question will not be evaluated by a board-appointed committee, which hopes to allow the historic betting machines as a way to revive the state’s horse racing market.
Illinois has three race tracks but, unlike some other states, doesn’t allow slot machines on the facilities. Slots make up the majority of gambling industry revenue and gamblers have been more attracted to the state’s 10 riverboat casinos, which gross an average of more than $1.4 billion annually.
This has come in part at the expense of the state horse tracks. Two have shut down and the remaining three have seen declining overall revenue in every year of the past decade. Horse tracks grossed less than $400 million last year, less than half the total from 2008.
Historic racing machines have been a solution in Illinois and elsewhere. Virginia is hoping it will help spark revival as it looks to re-open a commercial track. Kentucky, Oregon, Wyoming and Arkansas, which is evaluating a gambling expansion of its own, also allow the games.
These games are played at terminals similar to other video gambling machines. The games select from thousands of previous races, offering information, odds and facts without displaying the name or the horse that actually won that race before the bet is placed. Then players watch the race as if was appearing in real time.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the games supporters have argued it is no different than any other pari-mutuel bet on a live horse race. Like with all pari-mutuel bets, the winnings are split among a pool and, like with live racing, players can use their expertise to select a horse. The Illinois Racing Board agreed and passed a resolution to study implementation of the machines with a 7-0 vote.
Detractors argue its no different than a slot machine. The racing board’s lawyer argued that these machines could be considered slots and would therefore run afoul of the law. That could lead to legal challenges before the machines could even be implemented.
If approved, the Hawthorne Racecourse in Cicero and Fairmont Park in Collinsville would seek permission for the machines, according to the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights. Arlington Park conversely has shown little interest in the machines.
Gambling Remains Hot Topic in Illinois
Another form of gambling has garnered most recent headlines in Illinois.
Lawmakers in Springfield introduced legislation to legalize sports betting in the Land of Lincoln. If approved, Illinois sportsbooks would have access to the nation’s sixth-largest state by population and third-largest city.
The bill didn’t gain much traction in the state legislature’s most recent session, but it could see new life when lawmakers reconvene in the state capital. There is bipartisan interest to sports betting revenue, especially as the state grapples with ongoing budget issues. As with other states, legalization is not a straightforward process. Lawmakers will need to determine tax rates, online availability and age restrictions among other concerns, issues which have slowed or outright delayed sports betting implementation in other states, even after legalization.
Still, with gambling entering the public conversation from multiple fronts in Illinois and revenue options perpetually of concern, it may not take long for the state to take its first legal sports wager.
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