Hinsdale, IL — As Gov. JB Pritzker takes the helm in Illinois, horsemen throughout the state are urging his administration to include harness 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. “Ours is the only segment of the gaming industry that has significant room to grow and provide real and sustainable jobs in agriculture.”
Former Gov. 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,” 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.”