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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chicago Racing Comes off the Mat; Harrah's and Assault on Slot Revenue

The most important news in harness racing this morning is racing starts in Illinois on February 5 as the Illinois Legislature finally passed an ADW extension bill which means the IRB will be fully funded and allows for a full season of harness and thoroughbred racing in the Prairie State.  The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 47-4 while the House approved the legislation by a margin of 95-10.  As promised, Governor Quinn promptly signed the legislation once delivered to his desk.

Not that horsemen are out of the woods yet.  The IHHA must negotiate a contract with Balmoral and Maywood Park and depending whether or not the tracks are willing to defer recapture (to collect on past overpayments), horsemen may be racing with major purse cuts in place.   

Meanwhile, people are focusing on why Harrah's Philadelphia is still allowed to operate its casino.  My sources report the magic number is 140, as in race dates.  It seems the PGCB's position is Harrah's must run 140 race cards in 2014 to keep their casino license.  If this current situation (that they are monitoring) last up to the point where Harrah's cannot get those 140 days in, then they will take action.

In other news, Harrah's is meeting with the PHRC on Feb 3rd to iron out the problem with the track so it appears this situation will soon be rendered moot.

Assuming Harrah's is able to come to terms with the PHRC next week, there is an issue of arrogance by the gaming conglomerate in allowing the issue to get to this point which needs to be addressed.  It would be appropriate for the PHRC to assess financial penalties against the gaming company for ignoring previous requests.  Should a horseman have ignored the PHRC, they would have been suspended and fined.  There is no reason Harrah's should be treated any differently.

In related news, lawyers for the injured Anthony Coletta have filed a motion to compel Harrah's to permit a forensic investigation of the track surface to see if its condition was responsible for Coletta's injuries.  Up to now, Harrah's has denied the request.  The investigation not only will investigate the track surface but see if its maintenance was within the industry's best practices.  Update: The judge has granted the motion.  At the hearing Harrah's had no objection to the investigation despite the fact the lawyers claimed Harrah's denied access before.

January is not only the start of a new year, its time for the annual assault on Pennsylvania's slot revenue as Pennsylvania Representative Todd Stephens has proposed taking the entire Horse Racing Development Fund contribution from slot revenue and redirect it to schools which receive less than average state aid.  Specifically, it calls for $250 million to be transferred from the fund to schools.  While this proposal may go no where, it is a matter of time before the image of purses being won by Arab Shieks (t-bred), out of state millionaires and billionaires taking all the money will be hard to compete against, especially with the current anger towards income inequality.

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