Posted: Sept. 15, 2021
As Churchill Downs Inc. nears a decision on which bid it will accept for the purchase of the Arlington Park property, the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association issued the following statement:
Earlier this year, as Churchill Downs continued maneuvering to stymie future gaming potential at Arlington Park, Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes told ABC7-TV in Chicago what any keen observer already was thinking: “I think it’s clear why they did not choose to open a casino at the racetrack property—because it would directly compete with their majority interest in the Rivers Casino.”
There’s no question Churchill Downs is driven by the pursuit of profit. But if Churchill’s objective is in conflict with the state’s plan to grow the horseracing industry, then every Illinois taxpayer has a direct interest in that out-of-state corporation’s hostile actions here in our state.
That is especially true if Churchill executives, in the course of shuttering Arlington Park and moving to sell that property to another party, engaged in any agreement or other anti-competitive activity that would violate state or federal antitrust law. Only law enforcement authorities can determine whether Churchill’s behavior has risen to the level of an antitrust violation. And that is precisely why the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association last spring urged the Illinois attorney general to investigate. We also copied that request to the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
“It’s the worst kept secret in Illinois that Churchill is trying to torpedo Arlington to prevent the competition from facing Rivers,” ITHA President Mike Campbell said. “The question is: What are we going to do about that? Where are the regulators? Where is law enforcement?”
The Illinois gaming expansion law approved in 2019 explicitly authorized a casino operation at Arlington for the purpose of boosting purses and promoting the growth of the Illinois Thoroughbred horseracing industry. The General Assembly passed that measure—and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it into law—with the full knowledge of Arlington’s close proximity to Rivers.
Indeed, Churchill itself had spent two decades lobbying lawmakers for permission to build an Arlington casino. But after acquiring a majority stake in Rivers, Churchill reversed its position—rather than follow through on its decades-long commitment to lawmakers and the Illinois horseracing industry, Churchill instead started going about the business of stamping out racing at Arlington. It’s obvious from its actions that Churchill eschews healthy competition.
“The legislature sought to promote and protect the Illinois horseracing industry. That is the clear intent of the 2019 law,” Campbell said. “Now Churchill is trying to line-item veto the horseracing industry out of business—all to protect its own bottom line. Illinois can’t afford to lose all the jobs that depend directly on live racing at Arlington Park. Just because Churchill decided it wants to make more money at Rivers doesn’t mean that Illinois shouldn’t fight to preserve all the jobs of live racing—exactly as our state legislature has intended.”