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2014 Harness Racing Season still in jeopardy

The start of the 2014 Illinois harness racing season continues to remain in jeopardy.

After six hours of contract negotiations between the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association (IHHA) and Balmoral Park and Maywood Park management, the two groups exited the Illinois Racing Board (IRB) offices in the Thompson Center on Jan. 31 without a contract for 2014.

Members of the IRB mediated the meeting between the two groups.

“The IRB requires us to have a contract before we race, and we’ve been unable to come to terms in regards to handling our purse account,” Tony Somone, IHHA Executive Director explained.

This, after the much-anticipated signing of the ADW (advance deposit wagering) bill by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, shortly after the bill was passed by both the Illinois Senate and House on Jan. 29. The Illinois racing industry had been held in limbo by the ADW bill, which allows portions of its revenue to fund the IRB. The IRB had stated last fall that without the reinstatement of ADW, they were not going to be able to regulate live horse racing in the Prairie State in 2014.

Passage of the ADW bill allows for harness racing to follow a schedule mirroring 2013 once a contract is in place, with racing conducted three nights (Wed., Sat. & Sun.) at Balmoral and two nights (Thurs., Fri.) at Maywood.

Racing was originally scheduled to begin Feb. 5 at Balmoral, and continue on Feb. 6 and 7 at Maywood Park. Entries were taken on Friday morning at Balmoral and while ten races filled, that program had been acknowledged on either the Balmoral or United States Trotting Association websites for Feb. 5 as of 10 am, CT, this morning.

The issue of recapture continues to be a stifling point in the negotiations.

“The IHHA is trying to lessen the harmful effects of recapture as they relate to our purses,” Somone stressed. “Because of that, we are withholding our consent to send our signal out of state.”

If the two sister tracks of Maywood and Balmoral are allowed to collect 100% of recapture in 2014, that totals $4.9 million in revenue. The IHHA has projected that $13 million will be earned for harness purses in 2014 via handle.

“If the tracks take 100 percent of recapture, that will deplete our purse account somewhere between 35 and 40 percent,” Somone said. “It’s a huge hit that the horsemen can ill afford to take.”

No meetings are currently schedule between the two parties, but Somone added that he is “hopeful” the groups will reconvene on Monday, Feb. 3.