Arlington gets 2020 dates; no commitment to gaming license

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Sept. 25, 2019

The Illinois Racing Board, a week after delaying action on a 2020 dates request for Arlington Park to give track owner Churchill Downs Inc. time to change its mind on applying for a casino license, on Sept. 24 unanimously awarded the dates without a commitment from the company to proceed with gaming.

CDI earlier said the economics—a high tax rate coupled with gaming contributions to Thoroughbred purses—make a casino operation prohibitive. The company for years has pushed for racetrack gaming in the legislature, which approved it this year, and other Illinois track officials and horsemen’s groups have noted a major objective of the new gaming law is to increase funds for purses and breed development programs.

CDI also owns a majority share of the Rivers Des Plaines casino located about 12 miles from Arlington, is pursuing another Illinois casino license, and also intends to offer sports betting at Arlington.

The IRB indicated not having racing at Arlington next year could damage Illinois Thoroughbred racing.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that CDI General Counsel Brad Blackwell told the IRB the company continues to “figure this out” and is “committed” to finding answers on how it should proceed. Hawthorne Race Course, Fairmount Park and a new entity that plans to build a harness track in the Chicago area all applied for gaming licenses under the new law.

Arlington will race 68 days from late April through late September in 2020. Hawthorne, because of casino construction during the day beginning early next year, will race Jan. 3-4 and then not offer Thoroughbred races again until the fall meet, which runs from Oct. 1-Dec. 31. In all, Hawthorne was approved for 37 days.

Hawthorne will also offer 92 harness racing programs at night from Feb. 15-Sept. 20. Fairmount Park was approved for 60 Thoroughbred dates from March 3-Sept. 7; the track added days to accommodate horsemen who would normally stable and race at Hawthorne during the winter and early spring.

Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Mike Campbell told the Sun-Times he is “deeply disappointed” by the IRB’s decision and said it merely “kicks the can down the road.” Arlington, for 2020, still needs an agreement with the ITHA.

The ITHA earlier said that in the absence of a casino license, Arlington should forego “recapture”—money taken from purse accounts to subsidize racetrack operations—which totaled $4.47 million in 2019; share sports betting revenue—by law tracks don’t have to contribute revenue to purses from it—with horsemen; and reduce Arlington Million Day purses so overnight purses can increase.

ITB delays action on dates; ITHA issues statement

(Arlington Park photo courtesy of ITHA)