Illinois Legislator Proposes Historical Racing

Historical racing machines would be allowed at Illinois racetracks under a bill proposed by state Rep. Dwight Kay. He said the machines would generate revenue that could help struggling racetracks. Kentucky and Arkansas allow the games.

Illinois state Rep. Dwight Kay has introduced HB6323, which would allow historical racing machines at state racetracks. Kay said the revenue generated by the machines could help tracks like Fairmount Park in Collinsville and others. “They are trying to stay alive. This is just one stopgap to maybe help Fairmount and maybe some other tracks. The bill would buy some time for Fairmount,” which employs 1,400 people, Kay said.

Historical racing has attracted players to Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park in Kentucky, where the state racing commission ruled the games are parimutuel because they involve a common pool of wagers to determine payouts. Recently in Texas a judge ruled the Texas Racing Commission exceeded its authority by making historical racing possible at dog and horse racetracks.

Proponents have said the additional revenues raised by historical racing could aid struggling racetracks. But opponents have said the machines resemble slots and are concerned about the social costs of expanded gambling.

Steve Brubaker of the Illinois Harness Horsemens Association said historical racing “is worth reviewing. But, our main goal is to see slot machines at the tracks.” He said if gambling legislation including slots at tracks isn’t passed in the coming legislative session, Maywood Park racetrack on Chicago’s west side likely will close. Kay is concerned that could happen at Fairmount as well.

Last year, a bill failed that would have allowed five new casinos. Its sponsor, state Rep. Bob Rita, then proposed a bill that would have separated the Chicago casino from four proposed locations in Chicago’s south suburbs, and the counties of Lake, Winnebago and Vermilion.

Concerned about ethical safeguards, Governor Pat Quinn has vetoed plans to add more casinos and slots. Republican Governor-elect Bruce Rauner, who will take office in January, has said he would not oppose adding casinos if local communities want them.