Next Bet for Horse Racing: The Internet Industry Wants Online Betting Legalized

Article excerpt

Byline: Joseph Ryan Daily Herald Staff Writer

With their industry hobbling, Illinois horse racing interests are looking to put an off-track betting facility in every house - via the Internet.

Horse betting currently takes place in cyberspace largely illegally through a slew of unlicensed offshore and domestic sites. But state regulators, horse trainers and owners - including Arlington Park - want in on the action.

"The train is going to pull out of the station, and we won't be on it," said Richard Duchossois, Arlington Park's chairman, referring to the booming Internet gambling industry.

The comments came after the opening of an Illinois Racing Board hearing Tuesday in downtown Chicago on ways to improve the horse racing industry. The second of three hearings is scheduled for today.

The racing board plans to report back to lawmakers in the fall on suggestions for new gaming regulations, including the perennial issue of adding slot machines to racetracks, taxing casinos to subsidize racing, and licensing online horse betting sites.

Of the three, online horse betting is a relative newcomer in the annual struggle to increase interest in racing as well as boost its profitability. The move would be allowed under federal law, even if Congress forbids use of credit cards in other online gambling this summer. It is currently practiced in about 19 states.

Horse betting and lotteries are explicitly exempted from legislation passed by the U.S. House this month forbidding the use of credit cards in online gambling. But betting on horses with credit cards could become a political issue in Illinois, where credit wagering is banned at tracks and casinos and with the state lottery.

A losing bet

Horse track owners say the industry has been on a dive ever since casinos were added to the state in the early 1990s.

Even just over the past five years, the size of awards paid out to winners has plummeted from $108 million in 2000 to $92 million in 2005.

The awards are tied to the amount of bets wagered at tracks and off-track betting parlors. That amount has stayed stagnant at about $1 billion over the past 25 years. Factoring in inflation shows the amount wagered has actually dropped by $1.5 billion, according to Illinois Racing Board records.

"The horse racing industry is experiencing a serious decline over an accelerated rate," said Marc Laino, racing board director, as he outlined the figures before Tuesday's hearing.

When awards drop, so does the number of owners and trainers willing to run horses at Illinois tracks. And as horses decline, the interest of gamblers wanes because the potential payout takes a nose dive. …