Illinois horse racers lawsuit: Illinois hasn't paid its share to replenish purse accounts for 14 years

By Scott Holland | Nov 3, 2017

State government has undercut the Illinois horse racing industry, according to a complaint filed Nov. 1 in Cook County Circuit Court.

Michael Campbell, a licensed horse owner and trainer, joined a lawsuit with the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, the Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Inc., naming as defendant Illinois Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza.

According to the complaint, the 1975 Illinois Horse Racing Act set up a system under which wagering facilities get certified amounts from purse accounts at affiliated race tracks. The state is supposed to replenish the purse accounts for the money transferred to the wagering facility. But for 14 years, the state has lagged in making timely payments to the appropriate accounts, the lawsuit said.

The IHHA is the bargaining agent for all harness horse owners, breeders, trainers, drivers and caretakers in issues involving the Illinois Racing Board. The ITHA represents owners and trainers of thoroughbreds in front of the Racing Board, as well as at tracks, where it negotiates revenue sharing, track safety, sanitation, security and other issues. The IHPBA represents horse owners and trainers in negotiations with tracks.

All three nonprofit groups say the state’s failure to reimburse in accordance with law has caused direct economic injury by reducing the amount of money available for the top five finishers in each race.

According to state law, gambling facilities are not allowed to get their cut of prize purses until the Racing Board certifies the amount and a payment schedule, which typically happens in January. After the money is transferred, the state is supposed to put the same amount back into the purse accounts from the general revenue fund.

The complaint included figures for Jan. 24, 2017, when the Racing Board certified more than $11 million in transfers from five accounts: Arlington Park, and two each from both Hawthorne and Fairmount Park. But the plaintiffs say the General Assembly never appropriated that money from the general fun, or the comptroller’s office failed to order payment.

“Because the statute provides that the General Assembly shall appropriate the monies each year,” the complaint alleged, “separate annual appropriations are not required under the appropriations doctrine of the Illinois Constitution.”

As such, the plaintiffs want the court to declare the comptroller is required to make the annual payments and further to issue a writ of mandamus compelling Mendoza to fully pay whatever amounts the Racing Board certifies in January 2018.

Representing the plaintiffs in the matter are attorneys from Fox Rothschild LLP, of Chicago.

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Fox Rothschild LLP Illinois State Comptroller

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