You can bet the ponies, buy a lottery ticket, play bingo, head to a casino or maybe soon play video poker at the corner bar (legally).

Add to those gambling opportunities the latest plot to save horse racing in Illinois: Online and on-the-phone horse race betting.
The Illinois Racing Board on Tuesday OK’d the plan. Board Director of Mutuels Robert Lang said the estimated handle is conservatively $60 million but could hit $100 million a year.

The state’s gain from letting you bet at home: $1.05 million on the conservative end and $1.75 million on the high end.

Sounds to us like sustenance for poultry, not horses.

A few numbers to chew on:

  • In 2008, the total amount bet at or on Illinois horse races was $818.6 million, a 12 percent drop from 2007. The state put $7.3 million in its coffers from it.
  • The state’s casinos that year took in $1.57 billion, a drop of 21 percent. They paid $566 million in taxes.
  • The Illinois Lottery took in $2.08 billion during 2008 — its highest tally ever. The state’s schools got $657 million from it.

The point of all this is that online race betting is being touted as the newest boost to Fairmount Park Race Track in Collinsville. Past efforts to help it have included failed proposals to install slot machines at the track and giving it a slice of the casino revenues, the legality of which the U.S. Supreme Court is pondering.

We can’t get specific numbers because of contracts and lawyerly advice to the state racing board, but here’s some voodoo math based on guesses. Say Fairmount’s online partner,, takes in one-third of the estimated $60 million Illinois handle. The track stands to make about 4 percent of that $20 million, or about $800,000.

Will $800,000 fix what ails Fairmount Park? Unlikely, but it might make them feel better.

The question is, how lucky do you feel knowing the state is sponsoring yet another come-on for you to be a gambler?