SPRINGFIELD — One state lawmaker says the key to keeping horse racing from disappearing in Illinois is allowing bettors to wager on old races.
In a move that mirrors a trend in the financially beleaguered horse racing industry in other states, state Rep. Dwight Kay has introduced legislation that would allow tracks to offer so-called "historical racing" machines.
Historical racing allows players to bet on previously run races on terminals that have the same sounds and blinking lights as a slot machine. Information about the actual race, such as horse names, dates and tracks, would be invisible to the player, making it virtually impossible to identify winning horses before the race begins.
Kay, a Republican from Glen Carbon, said the additional cash raised by the machines could keep tracks such as Fairmount Park in his district open while lawmakers negotiate a larger, more comprehensive expansion of the state's gambling industry.
"This is just one stopgap to maybe help Fairmount and maybe some other tracks," Kay said. "The bill would buy some time for Fairmount."
State lawmakers have been trying for years to expand gambling in Illinois. But disagreements between advocates of expansion and Gov. Pat Quinn in recent years have kept horse tracks from winning the ability to have slot machines at their facilities to offset revenue losses from casinos and video gambling parlors.
Kay said Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner may offer a new take on the expansion proposal. But in the interim, he said tracks such as Fairmount are struggling.
"They are trying to stay alive," Kay said.
Although Kay wants quick action, the prospects of moving the legislation through the current General Assembly appears doubtful. Legislative leaders say they plan to deal with mostly minor issues before a new Legislature begins its work in mid-January.
Steve Brubaker of the Illinois Harness Horsemens Association said the organization is assessing the proposal. Key to the group's support is determining how much money the new form of gambling might bring in, Brubaker said.
"It's worth reviewing, but our main goal is to see slot machines at the tracks," Brubaker said.
He said if a gambling package that includes slots at the race tracks isn't put together by this spring, the Maywood Park track on Chicago's west side likely will close. Kay is fearful the same fate awaits Fairmount, which could affect as many as 1,400 workers associated with its operation.
Currently, two states — Kentucky and Arkansas — allow historic race betting.
Texas, where horse tracks also are struggling to compete with out-of-state casinos, is in the midst of a court fight over the machines.
The legislation is House Bill 6323.