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Effort to save Arlington horse racing season enters home stretch

By Mike Riopell

 

The effort by the Illinois horse racing industry and state lawmakers to save the summer season at Arlington International Racecourse and elsewhere is almost certain to come down to a photo finish.

 

When Illinois lawmakers left Springfield Thursday, they left without a new law to prevent Arlington's live racing season from being cut nearly in half to just 49 days next year.

 

The Illinois Racing Board says officials must OK betting on horses online beyond Jan. 31, when the law allowing it is set to expire. Also, the board wants $750,000 to cover its deficit for the year.

 

If it gets neither, the racing season would be slashed because the state won't have money to regulate a full season.

 

But the Illinois House and Senate are both scheduled to meet just once before Jan. 31 — on Jan. 29, the same day Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to give his annual State of the State address. Not much else gets done in Springfield that day as lawmakers listen to the speech and use the following hours to give their opinions on it.

 

Plus, Arlington leaders are at odds with the rest of the horse racing industry over how to proceed, putting up another sturdy hurdle on the path to a solution.

 

"We are routinely told by the legislature: 'Come to us when you have an agreement,'" said Glen Berman, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

 

Arlington supports a proposal that would raise taxes on all bets, from live racing to off-track betting and online.

 

Berman's group and other Illinois tracks don't want live racing taxes to go up and are backing a proposal that only raises taxes on online bets.

 

Both proposals would extend online betting for three years. Churchill Downs, which owns Arlington Park, also owns the state's biggest online horse racing operation, TwinSpires.

 

Both proposals raise about the same amount of money and would be fine with the Racing Board.

 

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