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Fairmount Park Fiasco May Get Entire Illinois Racing Board Fired

Categories: News
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The Illinois Racing Board is the stick figure
The Illinois House of Representatives voted yesterday to fire every member of the Illinois Racing Board for the agency's handling of a labor dispute earlier this year at Fairmount Park.

The bill, HB 5064, passed 89-24 and is sponsored by Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Democrat from Collinsville, where the horse track is located. If approved by the Senate, all eleven members of the state's Racing Board would lose their jobs unless Gov. Pat Quinn chooses to re-appoint them.

Hoffman believes the Board was out of line when it tried to use Fairmount's 2010 season as leverage in a dispute with four state employees working at the track over pensions and medical benefits. The Board had threatened to allow Fairmount to host just three days of live racing this year.

The shortened schedule would have likely left hundreds of track workers jobless and cost Collinsville thousands in tax dollars. A last minute compromise  was reached and Fairmount will host 52 days of horse racing, starting April 27.

With his job on the line, the executive director of the Racing Board defended his actions.

Via the Chicago Sun-Times:
However, Marc Laino, executive director for the Illinois Racing Board, disputed allegations that the board was using its power to set racing dates to leverage an unreasonable tax increase on the track in the General Assembly. Instead, Laino said the board was merely asking for conditions to be met so it could afford to keep the park open.

"Recognizing financial crisis, the board was faced with a decision," Laino said. "I thought it was fiscally responsible in using all the financial resources to award days even when it wasn't fiscally feasible."

Laino said Fairmount pays fewer taxes than the four other racetracks and the board can no longer justify the disproportional amount of funds it receives. The park, which is expected to post a net loss of $620,000 to the state in 2010, is the only Illinois thoroughbred track projected to lose money this year.

A bill making its way through the Senate would increase the pari-mutuel tax on Fairmount from 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent, which is still half what the other parks pay. If it passes, all 52 racing days will be restored.
The tax increase bill, SB 735, is being sponsored by Sen. William Haine of Alton. Haine told the Post-Dispatch he introduced the legislation requested by the Racing Board because the state agency "is holding a gun to the head of Fairmount."

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