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Horse racing is still dying in the home stretch

Belleville News Democrat

Friday, June 8, 2018  |  Editorial  |   By the BND Editorial Board

Gambling, Gaming , Racing, racetracks (76) Greenwood, LaToya--State House, 114
Fairmount Park horse race track president Brian Zander's beer mug only has tears in it at this point, but he's about to get some company at the Bets Are Off Lounge.

Illinois' three remaining horse race tracks generated $6 million last year. That is less than 8 cents of every $1 in taxes that horses generated at their peak in 1979. It is a fraction of a penny of every $1 gambling generated last year.

"Chump change," say the state lawmakers who spend that money.

And that's why betting folks would say Zander's not going to be alone for long. His buddies at the Casino Queen are about to join him.

The new kid in the corner of the bar is video gaming. Last year it passed casinos for the first time, creating 23 cents of every $1 in Illinois gambling tax to the casinos' 20 cents.

So with horse racing so marginalized, why would state Rep. LaToya Greenwood testify against letting Fairmount Park have what is found across the street at a bar? She said video gaming at Fairmount would threaten the $8 million in taxes that East St. Louis gets from the Casino Queen, taking away police and firefighters until the city found itself in chaos.

A-hem.

Let's add into this gambling mix $2 million in tourism money for Fairmount Park. That money comes with strings that bind the horse track to the Casino Queen. They must have a "contractual agreement." It may be a bid to reignite the plan from three years ago for the Casino Queen to buy Fairmount Park, but that plan was contingent upon. . . ?

The track getting slot machines.

So here we are with state lawmakers unwilling to let horses mix with slot machines, unless the slots are across the street. They are unwilling to let the horse track earn its own way, but are willing to give it welfare worth $2 million — one-third of all the gaming taxes Illinois horse tracks generated last year.

Where's the logic? What's the plan?

The plan is for more, more, more. Those that provide less are bound to lose.

Greenwood may see how Fairmount Park's decline led to disdain by her tax-hungry peers. She may see the same future for casinos that generate about one-third what they did in 2005. She may see that sports betting is coming.

It's going to get lonely at the Bets Are Off Lounge. The regulars are dying off.