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Horsemen Race to Capitol

SPRINGFIELD, May 19 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Horse racing organizations from across Illinois today said that putting slot machines at Illinois' five racetracks would provide enough revenue to finance a $20 billion capital improvement program for the state and help preserve the 40,000 agribusiness jobs associated with the sport.

Members from six horsemen associations representing standardbred, thoroughbred and quarter horses came to Springfield to tell their story to lawmakers and to show how the state could fund desperately needed capital construction projects for roads, schools and other public infrastructure projects.

At an estimated net to the state of $2 billion annually from slot machines at racetracks, financial experts say more than $20 billion could be bonded for a state capital construction program. Horsemen say the impasse over a capital plan can be addressed simply and swiftly by placing slot machines at the tracks, locations where wagering already takes place. Gaming proposals currently under consideration in the Illinois General Assembly outline how the addition of slot machines at racetracks can fund major capital programs for badly needed roads, bridges, and schools.

"Not only will slot machines fund the state's capital program, they will bolster one of Illinois' leading agribusinesses, the horse industry, which already pumps billions of dollars a year into the state's economy," said Bill Wright, Chairman of the Illinois Horse Racing Strategic Planning Council. "The jobs from horse racing need to be preserved and we are in Springfield to show lawmakers the faces and stories behind these jobs."

Nearly every other state in America that races horses also offers forms of casino gaming at their tracks, and those states have reaped huge benefits for doing so. As one of the only states without this kind of revenue enhancer, Illinois has neglected the valuable economic engine of horseracing resulting in a steady outflow of prominent stables, horses, trainers, drivers and jockeys who have left the state for "greener pastures." Other states are capturing untold millions of dollars that belong in Illinois because they have put revenue enhancers in place that lead to bigger purses and better payouts.

"Bigger purses attract better horses which translates into more horse farms and more jobs," said Greg Szymski from the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "That in turn leads to more money from taxes that flow to the state."

"Casino gaming at racetracks is one option that doesn't raise general taxes and provides an ongoing revenue source able to bond billions of dollars in new vital programs," said Lanny Brooks of the Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Added George Bononmo of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, "If horse racing is left to slowly fade away, state coffers will lose jobs and therefore income taxes, sales taxes, motor fuel taxes and a host of other economic benefits. This plan is a trifecta win for Illinois."

"With wagering already taking place at all Illinois race tracks, the installation of other gaming options is not an expansion of gambling anymore than the casinos adding more positions to their existing facilities," said Gene Allen of the Quarter Horse Association.

Groups participating in the horseman's event include the IHHA (Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association), ITHA (Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association), ISOBA (Illinois Standardbred Owners and Breeders Association), ITOBF (Illinois Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Foundation), ILHBPA (Illinois Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association), and the ILQHA (Illinois Quarter Horse Race Association).

Horseracing purses and revenue have plummeted since the advent of casino riverboats nearly twenty years ago. That decline has led to the loss of thousands of jobs in Illinois' valuable agriculture sector and millions of dollars in lost tax revenues. Horsemen say adding slots at racetracks will reverse that trend and fund a capital construction program at the same time.


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