Illinois Purse Increases: 'A Band-Aid On A Gushing Wound'

Hawthorne | Four Footed Fotos


Purses will be on the short-term rise at the tracks in Illinois, thanks to a pair of recent money recovery efforts initiated by the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (ITHA).

One increase at the current Thoroughbred meet at Hawthorne Race Course that will be effective June 15-July 15 involves an 18% across-the-board purse bump derived from a claw-back of funds related to the closure of Arlington International Racecourse.

A separate initiative required passage of a bill in the Illinois Legislature on its final day of the session last month. That action transferred $5.1 million of a surplus in the state's Horse Racing Fund to purses at both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred meets at Hawthorne, plus the Thoroughbred meet at FanDuel Racing (more commonly known as Fairmount Park).

David McCaffrey, the ITHA's executive director, told commissioners at Thursday's Illinois Racing Board (IRB) meeting that while horsemen are grateful for any help they can get, the influxes will only provide temporary financial relief.

“This is a terrific band-aid,” McCaffrey said, speaking specifically about the money from the Horse Racing Fund. “Make no mistake, it's a band-aid on a gushing wound that is Illinois racing, because things are at their all-time worst right now.”

According to an explanation posted in the ITHA's website, After Arlington closed in September 2021, that track's corporate management “attempted to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars from the horsemen's purse account. Arlington eventually folded in its attempt to keep the money after ITHA pursued litigation against Arlington, compelling the track to release the money. ITHA is now directing the remaining settlement funds to Hawthorne purses, which will account for the purse increase from June 15 to July 15.”

The separate $5.1-million transfer comes from the Horse Racing Fund, which McCaffrey said is largely derived from a 1.5% tax on all bets placed on Illinois racing. Traditionally, that fund accumulates and operates at surplus, and it had grown to “about $10 million” by the beginning of 2023, McCaffrey said.

Starting back in January, McCaffrey said, The ITHA, the IRB, and other stakeholders had lobbied for the passage of a law that would direct about half of the surplus toward Thoroughbred and Standardbred purses.

The ITHA's website noted that the Hawthorne share for the Thoroughbred purse account will be $2.295 million, and that the increase from the fund will go into effect “possibly starting in mid-July, upon the expiration of the [separate] purse increase beginning June 15.”

Racinos became legal in Illinois in 2019, but they aren't up and running yet at Hawthorne or FanDuel.

“Hopefully, it gives us a bridge to get to racinos when they start producing some revenue,” McCaffrey said.

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