Illinois Horse-Racing Groups Say State Owes Them Big

(CN) – Several Illinois horse-racing associations sued the state comptroller, claiming required reimbursements for winnings doled out have not been paid for 14 years.

The Illinois Horse Racing Act of 1975 includes a provision mandating that the state replenish racetrack purse accounts with funds that the tracks have to share with off-track betting facilities.

Such accounts hold funds allocated for gamblers’ “purses” – the money they win based on their horse’s performance.

“The IHRA permits certain wagering facilities to receive certain certified amounts from the purse accounts at the race track with which the wagering facility is affiliated,” according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court by three horse-racing groups.

The Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and horse trainer Michael Campbell – represented by Joseph E. Collins of Fox Rothschild LLP in Chicago – sued Illinois Comptroller Susan Mendoza, seeking a court order that she must appropriate money to the state’s Agriculture Department for payment into the tracks’ purse accounts.

According to the lawsuit, if the pool of racing bets across the state are less than 75 percent of the same bets in the year 1994, an off-track betting facility is entitled to 2 percent of the difference to be paid out of its affiliated track’s purse account.

“The state of Illinois is then required to replenish into the purse accounts the certified amounts transferred to the eligible wagering facilities,” the complaint states. “For the past 14 years, however, the state of Illinois has failed to replenish these purse accounts as required under the IHRA.”

The plaintiff groups – who are the bargaining agents for Illinois horse owners and trainers – say that the Illinois Racing Board certified over $11 million in such payments in January 2017, none of which has been paid by the state to the racetracks.

This hurts the industry, the associations claim, because the missing funds lower the purse accounts, which in turn mean lower payouts to race winners.

The IHRA is supposed to do the opposite, they say, by supporting and enhancing the horse-racing industry in Illinois, and “is intended to benefit the people of the State of Illinois by assisting economic development and promoting Illinois tourism.”

The groups seek a declaratory judgment and writ of mandamus ordering appropriation of the purse funds. Their lawsuit was filed electronically on Wednesday, but was only made available on Thursday.

The comptroller’s office did not immediately respond Thursday a request for comment.

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