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HINSDALE–As Gov. JB Pritzker takes the helm in Illinois, horsemen throughout the state, are urging his administration to include horse racing and its enormous contribution to the agribusiness industry when they explore new avenues to expand gaming.
“With more than $1 billion in contributions to the agribusiness economy of our state, horse racing must be included in any conversations about gaming,” said Tony Somone, Executive Director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association (IHHA). “Ours is the only segment of the gaming industry that has significant room to grow and provide real and sustainable jobs in agriculture.”
Former Governor Jim Edgar who is a part of Governor Pritzker’s transition team is aware of the economic impact that horse racing can have in Illinois having raced his own horses for many years. “Horse racing and the thousands of jobs it creates remains an important part of the agricultural economy of our state,” former Governor Edgar said. “Ensuring its viability in the overall gaming environment is in the best interests of the state of Illinois.”
Studies show that every race horse employs as many as ten workers across Illinois. From grooms and trainers to breeding farms, grain dealers, veterinarians, track officials and many more, horse racing is a solid job creator that has been badly neglected in Illinois in recent years.
“It is true that horse racing is struggling in Illinois because of casinos, but we know that with additional gaming assistance, other states have seen their horse racing industry rebound to previous heights of employment and business,” said Marty Engel, President of the IHHA. “We earnestly hope that Gov. Pritzker sees fit to include horse racing in any gaming legislation that emerges in the months ahead. We are one segment of gaming that will more than pay its way through the creation of new and sustainable jobs throughout our economy.”
In the last decade, legislation in Illinois has allowed the development of slot machines at taverns and the construction and opening of the 10th casino in Des Plaines. Illinois horsemen have survived despite all of those changes but not without losing thousands of good agribusiness jobs to places like Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and virtually every other horse racing state that has actively worked to grow the sport.
Engel added, “Make no mistake; horsemen will come back to Illinois to race if the prizes or purses are competitive with other states. And they will bring jobs with them. We have seen it happen throughout the country in states that have boosted their purses with money from slot machines. Those states now offer purses much larger than Illinois and their horse racing industries are booming as a result, adding tens of thousands of jobs.”
Yesterday, Governor Pritzker announced that former Senator John Sullivan would be taking over as Director of the Illinois Department. of Agriculture. As many of you know, Senator Sullivan, has been a great friend to horse racing. This will be a terrific addition. We believe he will play a more active role in the day to day operation at Ag. and subsequently, alleviate some of our ongoing issues with timely payments from our State and County Fairs. He should also be able to lend a needed hand in working with horsemen and legislators to assist with our yearly funding issues within the budget. This is a solid choice for all horsemen in Illinois.
For the past 6-8 weeks, we have been in regular contact with the Dept. Of Ag. regarding the payment of our money that we earned at the DuQuoin State Fair. Unfortunately, for a myriad of different reasons and excuses it still hasn’t been released. We will continue to push and pursue this ridiculous situation but it’s safe to say that it will not be processed and sent out this year. We’ll update you as soon as we hear anything relevant.
Here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the IHHA. May 2019 be a bountiful year.