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The Illinois Racing Board June 26 approved creation of a committee charged with drawing up rules that could govern the operation of historical racing terminals at tracks.

Fairmount Park president Brian Zander and Hawthorne Race Course president Tim Carey earlier urged the board to begin rulemaking without further study. They modified that request before the IRB May meeting to instead call for a committee. That meeting, however, was canceled.

At the time, opponents expressed fears that moving ahead on historical racing might dissuade Illinois lawmakers from acting on a pending gaming expansion bill that would permit full casinos at tracks. The General Assembly, however, adjourned its spring session without acting on that bill.

Commissioner Thomas McCauley urged the board to bypass a committee and begin rulemaking immediately.

“There’s an old saying, ‘A mule is a Thoroughbred designed by committee,'” he said. “Why not just implement rules?”

The IRB, he said, has “a responsibility to seize the opportunity.”

Fairmount’s financial woes have forced Zander to consider abandoning the end of the current race meeting, although he told the board an uptick in advance deposit wagering and “a few positive things” have forestalled a threatened July 3 shutdown.

Nonetheless, “Moving forward as soon as possible on this would be our preference,” he said.

IRB chairman Jeffrey Brincat acknowledged the frustrations of delay.

“We’d all agree the speed bumps have been numerous,” he said. “And they’ve been there for many reasons. The formation of a committee, as I understand it, is to overcome that.”

After some back-and-forth between IRB staff and legal counsel for the tracks about the underlying legal basis for historical racing in Illinois and the rulemaking process itself, the board voted unanimously to establish the committee with a reporting target set for the July meeting.

Historical racing terminals resemble slot machines but use the results of past races to generate winning combinations and payouts are determined in a pari-mutuel manner. They have been highly successful at Oaklawn Park and Kentucky Downs. Churchill Downs, with the blessing of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, plans to open a historical racing parlor in September in Louisville.

Because the games have been held by courts in other states to be a form of pari-mutuel wagering, tracks have been allowed to operate them under their existing licensure without legislative approval of new forms of gaming.

A previous staff attorney for the Illinois Racing Board authored an opinion that a proposal would not be legal under Illinois law. Should the IRB approve the current plan and rules for administering it, those rules would need approval from the legislature’s Joint Commission on Administrative Review and then likely would face a court challenge.

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