Illinois legislators have agreed to drop online gambling from the state’s comprehensive gambling expansion bill, apparently as a concession to the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (ITHA). The Daily Racing Form broke the news in reporting on the ITHA finally reaching a new two-year contract with the Arlington Park racetrack in Chicago, just days before the 2013 meet starts on May 3. The DRF reported multiple sources had claimed the negotiations between the ITHA and Arlington Park were only resolved after state lawmakers agreed to drop the online gambling language from the SB 1739 bill.
While the state has flirted unsuccessfully with online gambling legislation before, online gambling was a late addition to SB 1739, which seeks to bring brick-and-mortar casinos to Chicago, as well as slot machines to state racetracks. Introduced without any advance warning, the bill’s online gambling provisions were almost immediately opposed by various groups, including the ITHA. Just last week, the ITHA protested that Arlington Park – whose owner, Churchill Downs Inc., is looking to diversify its online wagering operations beyond horseracing – wasn’t offering the state’s horse breeders a cut of the potential online proceeds.
SB 1739 is expected to emerge from a Senate committee and proceed to the Senate floor for a vote within weeks, but the absence of the online gambling provision isn’t the end of the story. The CapitolFax.com blog reported that the Senate president’s office plans to resubmit the online gambling legislation as a separate bill. While Wednesday’s news likely boosts the chances of SB 1739 passing, the emboldened horsemen will no doubt be back in force when the online gambling legislation debate commences, demanding a slice of the online revenue. The larger question of just why horseracing should have effective veto power over almost all online gambling legislation in the US remains a question for another day.