ITHA ‘profoundly disappointed’ in CDI decision regarding Arlington casino

By: Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Posted: Aug. 28, 2019

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association issued the following statement regarding the decision by Churchill Downs Inc. not to apply for a gaming license for Arlington Park. CDI, which is majority owner of a non-racing casino not far from Arlington, said it expected an unfavorable return on investment given tax rates, which it believes includes the share of slot machine revenue that would go toward supporting purses and breed development:

We are stunned and profoundly disappointed in Churchill Downs’ decision not to pursue supplemental gaming at Arlington Park in order to do its part to grow jobs and economic opportunity for thousands of Illinois men and women both at the track and throughout the state’s agribusiness community.

For more than a decade, Arlington has lobbied Illinois governors and legislators for permission to offer casino-style games as a means to boost revenue at the track and generate funds to significantly improve the quality of horsemen’s purses. Indeed, Arlington in recent years elevated its lobbying push by insisting that the track be granted the authority to offer table games—in addition to slots—in order for its racino to be economically feasible.

Yet now that it is finally poised to operate both slots and table games, as a direct result of the gaming law recently approved, Arlington’s parent Churchill Downs has, astoundingly, declined to apply for the license necessary to operate a racino. The company evidently plans to instead abandon its commitment to racing in Illinois and focus solely on its stake in the Rivers Casino and potentially other Illinois casinos not yet developed. Churchill has snubbed not only the working men and women of Thoroughbred horse racing whose collective livelihood depends on live racing, but also all of the elected officials it has so intensely lobbied over the last decade.

As a consequence of its abrupt change in course to the detriment of this state and its taxpayers, Churchill immediately should be denied the enormous financial advantages it enjoys by virtue of its now-annulled commitment to Illinois racing. Those include Arlington’s considerable property tax break ($2.47 million this year), the track’s recapture subsidy ($4.47 million in 2019 alone, straight from horsemen’s purses), and the chance to apply for a sports betting license linked to Arlington (a form of gaming that will do nothing to benefit purses).

In clear contrast, Hawthorne Race Course has applied for its racino license and has, moreover, made clear its plan to maximize the benefit of that license for Thoroughbred racing. We applaud Tim Carey and his team at Hawthorne for recognizing the potential, under the new gaming law, to reinvigorate Illinois racing and realize the tremendous promise of our sport and industry.

We similarly credit Brian Zander and his team at Fairmount Park Racetrack for taking seriously the opportunity of the new law and moving forward in earnest toward the development of a racino that will better support the track, all of the professionals linked to racing at that track, and the larger area economy.

Illinois has a direct interest—one clearly expressed by the new gaming law—in expanded live racing at Arlington. Live racing provides economic benefits to the state, both at the tracks and throughout agribusiness downstate, that no other form of gaming can provide. At Illinois tracks, live racing supports the jobs of trainers, backstretch workers, jockeys and drivers, blacksmiths, veterinarians, and track personnel, among numerous other professionals. In agribusiness, live racing supports breeders, hay and feed suppliers, and others responsible for raising and caring for the horses. These men and women, by and large, reside and contribute to their communities in Illinois.

Expanded live racing, in combination with significantly greater purses, is necessary to position Illinois racing to again compete with racing in other states, begin recovering jobs lost to those states, and, eventually, grow more jobs. We look forward to working closely with Hawthorne, in the months to come, as we do our own part to advance our sport and industry. It is live racing, not corporate profit, that serves the best interests of this state and its taxpayers.

CDI takes a pass on casino license for Arlington Park

(Arlington Park photo courtesy of Coady Photography)