The budget standoff in Illinois is reverberating throughout cities and towns statewide. Governor Bruce Rauner’s office said Illinois communities with video gambling will not receive their share of the machines’ profits until the state budget is finalized. Additionally, several county fairs and both state fairs announced reductions in the number of days of harness racing.
Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement the state does not have the authority to distribute video gambling profits without a balanced budget, sending several local governments into distress. For example, Elmwood Park Village Manager Paul Volpe said the village expected to receive $120,000 this year from their portion of video gambling profits. “We’ve dedicated the money to capital investments. “It goes to supporting the investment we’ve made in streets and other things. It would certainly slow down our investments in that area.”
However, Elmwood Park Village President Angelo “Skip” Saviano, a former state representative who supported video gambling, called the situation “political wrangling,” adding, “Rauner wants to accelerate the crisis level.”
County fair boards already consider the cutback in state funds a crisis situation. Ron Knupp, who manages harness races for the Williamson and Union county fairs, said, “The state has cut back the funding on them, and the guys are just about racing only on their own money. It is just a dismal situation for everybody involved in harness racing. Everybody involved is just scraping by.” Both fairs will offer just one instead of the usual two days of harness racing. The Perry County Fair Board also said all thoroughbred and harness racing will be canceled unless the horsemen pitch in to fund the prizes.
At the Du Quoin State Fair, harness racing days will be reduced to two instead of three days this year. The Illinois State Fair in Springfield only will offer four harness racing days.
Even beyond the fairs, the Chicago-area Balmoral and Maywood Park harness racetracks both have filed for bankruptcy and have ,significantly cut purses.
Recently on its website, the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association recently posted a statement from the Illinois Racing Board noting if legislators can’t agree on a budget, the impact of a statewide government shutdown would be “dramatic and would suspend nonessential operations, including the regulation of racing.”
Knupp said he believes unless the gambling bill or comparable legislation passes, harness racing will be over this year. “We’re getting no help from the legislature at all in Southern Illinois or anywhere in the state. Even three years ago, it was a viable industry. The legislature has just destroyed it,” he said.