Epic Legislative Session Finally Over:

The IHHA is pleased to report that this year’s budget appropriated $2.5m from the Standardbred Breeders Fund for purses at the State and County Fairs and “The Night of Champions” finals and consolations at Hawthorne.

For the last two years, during the state’s budget impasse, lawmakers did not authorize such spending. The Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and the Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association worked collaboratively throughout the legislative session, engaging with all four legislative caucuses and the office of Gov. Bruce Rauner, in pursuit of these funds. Instead of focusing solely on gaming issues, as others appeared to do, our three groups recognized the utility – with the state’s impasse ongoing – of pursuing other opportunities, such as this, to help bring relief to our industry.

The IHHA is grateful for continued interest and support from state legislators of both parties and chambers of the General Assembly. We also appreciate the Governor’s interest in the horse racing industry and its associated agribusiness jobs.

“While Republicans largely had issues with the overall budget, many of us support the line item for horsemen, and I want to acknowledge the effective advocacy of the three Illinois horsemen groups – ITHA, IHHA and ILHBPA – in getting those sums restored,” said Sen. Chapin Rose of Mahomet, an assistant Republican leader.

House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie) added: “The IHHA, ITHA and ILHBPA worked all session to restore funding for horsemen, and I am pleased to say that the lobbying efforts of Illinois’ three horsemen groups paid off in the final appropriation for the Department of Agriculture.”

While passage of a state budget signals the end of the deadlock of more than two years, lawmakers did not seriously attempt to advance any gaming bills. The often discussed “big gaming bill” that allows slots machines at the racetracks which passed on two different occasions and was vetoed by then Governor Quinn still exists. That bill, SB7 passed the Senate in April but sat idle in the House. This bill which still has the same components for horsemen as previous is enticing for members of the General Assembly, not only for the potential of it to revise the horse racing agribusiness but for its potential value for paying down past debt, added tax revenue and for job creation. An “internet gaming” bill in which horsemen battled hard to get included passed the Senate near the end of the regular session this year and still looms well as a potential for significant assistance to horsemen. Still, to compete with other states, passing the “big gaming bill, is still the IHHA’s number one priority.