What follows is not a rigorous report on the Illinois Racing Board's yearly Dates Hearing on Tuesday September 24. What follows is more reactionary; we'll leave the rigorous reporting to the Daily Racing Form.
To summarize: the Illinois Racing Board passed four schedules, with the best case scenario essentially mirroring this year's schedule. However, two "worst case" scenarios based on two independent scenarios would trim the schedules, at best a rather senseless three-week break (why not end early or run less frequently during the week?) during Hawthorne's Fall meet, or at worst with a racing three day racing week at both Arlington and Hawthorne. The fourth scenario, off sixty-five live programs combined at Arlington at Hawthorne, would be a doomsday scenario.
In an ideal world, I'd like to see both Hawthorne and Arlington try what Monmouth Park on the Jersey Shore did a few years back, akin to the "50/50 plan" of fifty days and $50M in total meet purses. In essence, to run a leaner schedule (three-day weeks) but with all the funding available. In this world, unicorns exist and there are special races for them.
What is more likely, obviously, is one of the scenarios passed by the board.
What is most likely in the eyes of this observer is doomsday. That dreaded fourth scenario of sixty-five total dates.
Now before you appoint me Captain Killjoy and call me an alarmist, here's the logic.
Recall that there are two independent scenarios in play necessitating the four schedules. Each scenario is presented below as a "yes/no" question.
Scenario 1: Advance deposit wagering (ADW) expires near the end of 2014. Will the state legislators renew ADW, allowing the tracks and the Illinois Racing Board to reap a percentage of funds?
Scenario 2: The ADW provision expired at the start of 2013, was not in effect for about six months, and created a shortfall of about $725K, money used by the Illinois Racing Board for expenses and day-to-day regulation of the sport (for example: employing stewards, paying for a testing lab on the UIC campus). Do the state legislators set aside money (the same $725K) for erasing the shortfall?
Further recall with our four scenarios, "Yes" to both is best case (reflected in IRB Schedule 1), "No" to one of them is a worst case scenario (IRB Schedules 2, 3) and "No" to both is doomsday (Schedule 4).
There's that D word again: Doomsday.
Let's take Scenario 1 first. ADW legislation dragged on, partly due to a partisan, gridlocked state government that is divided among itself. But both tracks, Hawthorne and Arlington, have disagreed on the way to split the money that comes from wagering fees generated from out of state wagers. At a time of potential crisis the tracks, in an ideal world, could come together and compromise and agree to a fair rate before approaching the downstate lawmakers.
Not with both tracks disagreeing over the percentages. Not with dark time money and the last week of the Hawthorne Spring meet and the first week of the Hawthorne Fall meet sought by Arlington. Such disagreement, like the slots and alternative gaming bills that arise each year in the state assembly and lift the hopes of racing fans, spells doom. It has the feel of "dies in committee", to be found months later in the bowels of Springfield.
Scenario 1 becomes a "NO".
Now we go to Scenario 2 with the state legislature sending $725K to the Illinois Racing Board for its shortfall. That's tantamount to the legislature admitting fault for its impasse, which is as likely as those aforementioned unicorns. Additionally, Illinois is broke, and its lack of funds extends to the cities and organizations upstate. Despite impassioned pleas from supporters, something like horse racing--with its gambling perceptions--could easily get the short end of the funding stick. That makes Scenario 1 a "NO". (This is a more perilous proposition, as the Illinois Racing Board is deprived of funds needed for everyday oversight.)
And with two "NO" answers, we have Schedule 4. Doomsday. Sound your alarms. May day. Prepare for the worst.
Now a racing fan and reader might still think it's impossible (remember, these dates are for 2014, the situation remains fluid, and things could still change). However, "Picks and Ponderings" has prepared an Illinois Racing Disaster Kit, to be used if Schedule 4 comes to pass. Here's what it could include.
- Winning ticket (To remember what winning at a track is like)
- Losing ticket (To remember what losing at a track is like)
- Track photo with you in it (To remember what the track is like)
- Duck tape (Every kit should have this.)
- Alcohol (To get you through the spring and fall without racing)
- Food and drinks (See #5)
- GPS/Compass (To find where the on/off track betting is, if it's moved to a different area or if locations are shuttered)
- Flashlight (Every kit should have this; and you might be wagering by candlelight)
- Batteries (Goes with #8)
- Money (For obvious reasons)
I hope I don't have to open my Illinois Racing Disaster Kit. But in case I do (and I think I will), I'll be prepared.
(Updated/Corrected, with italicized text above, on Thursday Sept. 26, to clarify Scenario 2 and the role of the Illinois Racing Board. Corrections/suggestions courtesy of Dave Zenner, Senior Manager of Communications at Arlington Park.)
Whether you're heading to the track or the not, you can take "Picks and Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere.
You can get Twitter updates (@heylaserbeam) for on-the-scene reports on major racedays at Arlington Park.
And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.