Illinois, which has a grand history of horse racing, dating back to President Lincoln, is in a state of near collapse, and that’s very very regretable.
In the 1850s, while still a Springfield lawyer, Abraham Lincoln enjoyed watching horses race at a Sangamon County fair.
In the 1930s, Al Capone reportedly held a silent stake in the old Sportsman’s Park in Cicero.
Well, maybe that’s not a highlight.
But this is: The time when more than 40,000 people crowded the old Arlington Park to see Secretariat race one month after winning the Triple Crown.
In the years after Secretariat appeared in the northwest suburbs, the racing industry’s fortunes grew at a robust pace, pumping nearly $85 million into state coffers in 1979 and setting a wagering record of $1.29 billion in 1992.
That was then.
This is now.
Almos every financial measure of the sport has trended downward since the 1990s because casinos siphoned away bettors, and higher purses in states that allowed slot machines at racetracks lured the best horses away.
Example: In 2010, the state took in only $7.4 million in revenues from horseracing, an 84-percent slide from its heyday three decades ago and less than half of the $18 million collected in 1960.
Total wagering in 2010 — nearly $725.7 million — dropped by 44 percent compared to 1992 and represented the lowest amount of betting since the early 1970s, according to the Illinois Racing Board’s soon-to-be-released 2010 annual report.
The total amount of prizes awarded to winning thoroughbred and harness horses in Illinois — nearly $54.3 million — has slid 54 percent since 2002 and represented the lowest total since 1978. Harness-racing purses dropped by 62 percent since 2002.
Attempts to help the industry have failed.
In 1999, Illinois lawmakers carved out a 15-percent subsidy from wagering at a 10th casino, but that gambling venue still hasn’t gotten off the ground.
Some what’s next?
I’ll keep an eye peeled on the upcoming season.
But what’s happening now in Illinois is happening elsewhere in the U.S.
And those of us who love horse racing have to do something about it.
Are you with me on that?