Historically, fans of the sport of harness racing – a track-based racing event in which trotting horses circle a small track while pulling a sulky and driver – could go to two separate Chicago-area racing ovals, at west-suburban Maywood and south-suburban Balmoral, to watch harness races. However, there has been a steady decline in Illinois harness race attendance and wagering activities in recent years. Both Balmoral and Maywood operated as debtors-in-possession in 2015 as part of a combine that has entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The tracks have, however, continued to post numbers that have led its regulatory body, the Illinois Racing Board, to take action earlier this year to withdraw licensed racing dates from the two courses for 2016.
The lack of approved racing dates will prevent the two tracks from operating next year, and many Illinois horse observers believe there will not be a return to economic conditions at any time in the near future that will allow them to operate. Plans have been approved to run a 2016 harness racing schedule on a track that will operate as part of the traditionally-thoroughbred-oriented Hawthorne race course west of Chicago. As part of the Balmoral/Maywood shutdown process, the racetracks have announced plans to lay off 81 of their remaining workers in the coming months. The racetrack layoffs, announced as part of the November 2015 cycle of job notices required under the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, were announced on Wednesday, December 9. House Amendment #1 (Representative Thaddeus Jones) to HB 2663 contains language intended to try to save operations at Balmoral and Maywood. This legislation would reverse the decision of the Illinois Racing Board and grant 2016 racing dates to the two threatened racetracks. The House Revenue and Finance Committee held a hearing on HB 2663 in Chicago on Thursday, December 10.