Illinois gaming bill will create thousands of new agribusiness jobs

Springfield, IL — The Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association is urging lawmakers during these last few days of session to pass gaming legislation that includes horse racing. Proposed legislation would reinvigorate Illinois’ horse racing industry and lead to the creation of thousands of new agriculture jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in sorely needed revenue for the state.

Former Illinois governor and racehorse owner Jim Edgar is confident that if gaming expansion includes horse racing, thousands of new agriculture jobs will be created across the state.

“This gaming bill is a jobs bill for the horse racing industry,” said Edgar. “One racehorse directly employs three people like grooms, trainers, and drivers and indirectly employs many others like hay and grain farmers, veterinarians, blacksmiths, equipment dealers and more. The ripple effect of horse racing on the agriculture industry is tremendous.”

In addition to allowing existing racetracks to add slot machines, proposed gaming legislation would permit the construction of a new Standardbred racetrack in the metropolitan Chicago area.

“All of the racing has moved east to states that have invested in horse racing,” said IHHA President Marty Engel. “Agriculture is number one in Illinois and horse racing fits hand in glove with agriculture. There is no reason Illinois can’t have a robust horse racing industry if gaming legislation is passed into law.”

Standardbred horse breeding numbers are at an all time low in Illinois with only around 140 foals in 2018. At the height of horse racing in Illinois, more than 2,000 Standardbred horses were foaled in Illinois. Many Illinois horsemen have moved their breeding farms and training facilities to states like Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania which allow casinos at racetracks. In fact, Illinois is only one of a very few horse racing states in the country that does not allow casino gaming at racetracks. In other states, money from those casino games is used to boost purse winnings for horsemen. Over the last few years, horsemen have fled the Land of Lincoln for greener pastures.

Members of the IHHA are optimistic that horse racing in Illinois would swiftly rebound if racetracks were allowed slot machines.

“Ohio had virtually no professional horse racing industry ten years ago,” said IHHA board member Angie Coleman. “Since allowing casino gaming at racetracks, Ohio has seen a horse racing boom. New tracks have been built and thousands of agribusiness jobs have been created to support the industry there.”

Rita Williams, an IHHA Board Director and longtime horse breeder in Illinois says that it will take a couple of years to get the breeding numbers back up but there will be tremendous enthusiasm for Illinois-bred horses.

“There are lots of incentives to race Illinois-bred horses in our state,” said Williams. “Existing laws and rules benefit Illinois-bred horses and if the purse money increases, you can bet that trainers, drivers, grooms, and breeders will want to get in on the action.”

In addition to a new racetrack and casino gaming at existing racetracks, this proposed legislation will also guarantee live race dates, a fair percentage of the profits from gaming at tracks to horsemen’s purses and the elimination of recapture. A certain number of live races will be earmarked for Illinois-bred horses, further supporting Illinois agriculture.

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