ITHA: Arlington's Refusal To Open 'Devastating' To Horsemen, Small Businesses - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

ITHA: Arlington’s Refusal To Open ‘Devastating’ To Horsemen, Small Businesses

The finish line at an empty Arlington Park

The following commentary is from the  Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association concerning the state of Illinois giving tracks permission to run spectator-free racing beginning June 1 – and Arlington Park's refusal to embrace the opportunity.

Arlington Park's contempt for Illinois workers and the best interests of taxpayers knows no bounds. Having rebuffed the opportunity to add a casino to its track as means to boost local economic activity and tax revenue, even after lawmakers met Arlington's demands in the gaming law approved last year, the track now is refusing to embrace the chance to host crowd-free live racing this year.

Rather than race without spectators, and miss out on the prospect of selling cocktails at a steep markup to crowds at Arlington Million Day, Arlington instead is poised to forgo racing altogether. Everybody in Illinois is sacrificing in this difficult time. Everybody, that is, except Arlington – which would just as soon take its ball and go home rather than do its part to help Illinois workers and taxpayers by continuing live racing while taking reasonable steps to mitigate against the spread of COVID-19.

Live racing supports thousands of jobs in Illinois, from trainers, backstretch workers, veterinarians, blacksmiths and jockeys at the track to breeders, truck drivers and hay and feed suppliers downstate. These working men and women are committed to racing – and, in many cases, are residing and raising their families – in Illinois. The loss of live racing at Arlington will be devastating as horsemen move their small business operations to other states where they can work and earn a living.

The backstretch of Arlington is home to hundreds of families. The moms and dads work and live there. If Arlington torpedoes live racing this year, many will lose their jobs with bleak prospects for finding decent alternative employment. Hawthorne Race Course has opened its backstretch for these workers and families to live. But Arlington has obstinately refused, leaving some homeless or scrambling to find accommodations in other states.

Arlington has tried to scapegoat the horsemen by saying that racing can't start until we first agree to Arlington's egregious contract terms. But it's Arlington that disregarded an Illinois law that explicitly required the track to finalize that contract by Dec. 31 of last year. And it's Arlington that now is insisting on using the antiquated practice of “recapture” to plunder the purse account of the dollars necessary to produce any live racing meet.

Horse racing is an athletic performance event produced by highly skilled professionals. The track supplies the venue. We provide the equine athletes, which we purchase, support and train. We race for purses – that is how we earn our living. But Arlington wants to take the purse account's entire current balance – $4.5 million – and send that money to Churchill Downs Incorporated, its parent company in Kentucky. Who in their right mind would agree to a contract when the other party plans to take for itself all the money that has been set aside to pay for the job?

Arlington's constant maneuvering to deflect from any meaningful commitment to horse racing and the best interests of this state is head spinning. The track spent two decades lobbying for a casino license. But when lawmakers authorized that license, Arlington couldn't be bothered to apply for it. As recently as last week, Arlington has publicly maintained that live racing might not be permitted, at any point soon, in Illinois. Now with Wednesday's decision that live racing will in fact be allowed spectator-free on June 1, Arlington is grasping for another excuse not to commit.

Hawthorne Race Course is preparing for spectator-free racing and is deferring “recapture” to bolster the purse account and help preserve local jobs. We applaud Hawthorne for demonstrating leadership and taking the initiative during this extraordinarily challenging time. Arlington should follow Hawthorne's lead.

State lawmakers authorized horse racing to promote the growth of jobs, enhance competition with other states, and to generate tax revenue – not to pad the bottom line of Churchill Downs, to the clear detriment of all the workers of the industry, including backstretch workers, ticket agents and parking attendants, breeders, feed suppliers, and other agribusiness operations that depend on live racing.

An organization racing license is a privilege, not a right. It is well past time for Arlington to show that it is worthy of that privilege. Arlington Park exists to race horses – for the benefit of Illinois jobs, economic opportunity and taxpayers – not to sell $16 sangrias.

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