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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Illinois and Maryland Blues

Illinois Politics

Earlier this week, we talked how the race date game has begun.  Well in Illinois, the IRB has issued the harness dates for 2012 in Illinois.  Balmoral will race Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday all year long while Maywood Park will race on Thursdays and Fridays.  The IRB reserves the right to cancel Tuesday racing at Balmoral if state budget cuts reduces funding for the IRB or the field sizes are not sufficient. On the thoroughbred side, Chruchill Downs was denied in their request for Arlington Park to take over the lucrative spring meet from Hawthorne Racecourse.  Arlington Park was granted the right by the IRB and Balmoral Park, which has exclusivity for evening hours in Chicago to race three evenings starting at 6:30pm.  However, with the denial of the request for the spring dates, Arlington Park may not take advantage of this.

With regards to the current slot bill, most experts have conceeded, the current casino bill in Illinois will not become law as is.  The question is will Governor Quinn's objections be addressed in a trailer bill, a bill which overlays part of the original bill, or if there will be an outright conditional or full veto of the legislation?

Once again, horse racing of both breeds is being held hostage to other objections.  With the exception of slots at the state fair, Quinn apparently has no problem with slots at the racetracks.  Right now, his primary objection seems to be with a casino in Chicago.  Currently, all casinos in Illinois are controlled by the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB).  Since the Chicago casino is to be operated by the City of Chicago, the current legislation calls for the casino to be controlled by Chicago's own gaming board.  As history indicates, Chicago having its own gaming board would be akin to having the fox guarding the chicken coop; there is no way Quinn will accept that.  Sure there are other objections, but the problem is this existing gambling bill was passed with a coalition of politicians who have their own interests.  While a trailing bill can address the Governor's objections, the question is will the coalition which passed the original bill hold together to pass a trailing bill?  If someone's interest in the original gaming bill is cut out, you run the risk of that politician abandoning the bill and there are not many votes gaming supporters can afford to lose.

The IHHA is pushing Quinn to accept the bill as is, but that is not going to happen.  Their concern lies with the legislators, and there lies the problem.  Unless a legislator has a racetrack or horse farms in their legislative district, they don't care about horse racing.  As much as the IHHA would like to think they can influence the debate, I fear they, like the racetracks, are merely bystanders in this debate.

Maryland Blues

Of course, things in Maryland are not much better.  Rosecroft which has reopened and is set to offer their first live racing card in late October, may not have a long life under Penn National Gaming if Eric Olson, a councilman for Prince George County where Rosecroft is located, has his way.  Olson would like to see Prince George County ban slot machines from the county on morally-rooted grounds.  He claims slots are not a good fit for Prince George County, claiming . “We have record foreclosures . . . slots could take from people in vulnerable economic positions.

An admirable, but naive position, Mr. Olson.  The inference is people who have no business gambling will gamble if slots are put in Prince George County (PGC).  Perhaps they shouldn't, but you can't legislate responsible behavoir.  Perhaps if PGC was an island nation where their constituition allows them to ban their own citizens from the casinos (casinos only for tourists), it would make sense.  But they can't do it in America.  Does Mr. Olson really think not allowing a casino in PGC will keep those who shouldn't gamble from gambling?  Rest assured if so inclined, these people will be getting in their cars or casinos out of county will be providing buses to take these people to their casinos.  It is up to the individual person to make their own decision whether to gamble or not.

Of course, while the county may pass such legislations, it is possible the state could pass a law calling for a constituional ammendment which will override any such ban.  However, if the county is opposed to slots, it will make it harder to get enabling legislation through the state legislature.  We know Penn National Gaming's interest in Rosecroft is to get slots at the track.  If that avenue is closed off, how long will they keep running the track?

After today, I will be taking a couple of days off. If I don't post again today, I would like to wish my Jewish readers a Happy New year.

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