ITHA issues statement on IRB meeting, Arlington casino license

Posted: Sept. 18, 2019

The Illinois Racing Board Sept. 17 delayed action on approval of 2020 racing dates by passing a motion designed to encourage Churchill Downs Inc. to reconsider it decision not to apply for a gaming license for Arlington Park.

The IRB’s action caught the racing industry by surprise. A three-person committee was formed to work with CDI on a tight deadline; the IRB will meet again Sept. 24 to decide on the fate of Arlington’s racing license and future racing dates.

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association issued a lengthy statement on the meeting:

Following Churchill Downs’ decision not to apply for a racino license at Arlington Park, thereby abandoning any meaningful commitment to live racing in this state, the Illinois Racing Board has directed Churchill and its subsidiary Arlington to carefully re-evaluate its place in our sport and industry.

The board on Sept. 17 had planned to vote on Arlington’s request for 2020 racing dates. However, the board opted instead to postpone that vote until Sept. 24 and, moreover, advised Arlington to return next Tuesday prepared to demonstrate a commitment to Illinois racing.

IRB member Thomas McCauley made the motion to defer the matter for a week and, in doing so, admonished representatives of Arlington to consider:

“Whether to maintain its current position going forward;

“Whether it wants to reject the very opportunity it has pleaded for for so many years;

“Whether it wants to say to Gov. Pritzker and the General Assembly that all of their efforts to ‘level the playing field,’ and restore Illinois racing and breeding to the positions which they could and should enjoy, are for naught;

“Whether it wants to deprive the state of all the additional jobs which a longer meet and a racino in Arlington Heights would provide, as well as some of the much-needed and visionary capital improvements the tax revenue would enable;

“Whether it really wants to signal to the world that, once and for all, it’s only a gaming and software company and no longer a horse racing enterprise; and

“Whether it wants to jeopardize its racing license and all the racing revenue which the privilege associated with that license generates.”

Last October, Churchill announced it had secured a majority stake in the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, the state’s top grossing casino. It has now become clear that Churchill is determined to maximize its shareholder returns without regard for the clear intent of the state’s new gaming law to further competition among gaming outlets and across various forms of gaming, enhance the ability of the Illinois horse racing industry to compete with racing in other states, preserve and create jobs in racing, diversify and grow the state’s tax revenue base, and serve the best interests of taxpayers.

Absent a commitment to develop and operate a racino at Arlington to bolster the growth of live racing in order to grow jobs and economic opportunity, consistent with state lawmakers’ intent, Churchill can take steps that would (albeit to a far more limited degree) assist the Illinois horse racing industry. They include:

  • Foregoing any and all future recapture—the mechanism by which a track removes funds from the horsemen’s purse account to subsidize its own operations, undermining the ability of Illinois Thoroughbred horse racing to compete with racing in other states. Since recapture began in 1995, Arlington has taken $88.9 million from horsemen’s purses. In 2019 alone, the track is taking $4.47 million.
  • Devoting to the horsemen’s purse account half of any revenue derived from sports betting linked to Arlington. As currently contemplated, sports betting linked to Arlington would do nothing to benefit purses.
  • Dramatically reducing the Arlington Million Day purses and distributing those dollars to overnight purses throughout the racing year in order to boost economic opportunity for Illinois owners, trainers and jockeys—those who actually support the Illinois horse racing industry and economy.

Illinois has a direct interest—one clearly expressed by the new gaming law—in expanded live racing at Arlington. It surely was not the intent of the new law to permit one out-of-state corporation to effectively stifle the growth of the Illinois horseracing industry, depriving Illinois of the jobs and tax revenue that will result, as a means to reduce the competition facing its own casino. (When traveling by road, Rivers is approximately 12 miles from Arlington.)

McCauley said he recognized a proposed 2020 dates order was pending.

“However, if there is no modification of the Churchill/Arlington position on gaming during the adjournment period, it may be that there will be no organization license for Arlington, hence no racing,” he said. “That will cause disruption, but it’s the protectors of Rivers (Casino), and the bottom line, who will have caused that disruption if they don’t take advantage of what the state has given them.”

McCauley urged IRB staff to use the time before the Sept. 24 meeting “to propose hypothetical alternative 2020 racing schedules which would take into account no racing at Arlington Park, should that be the result we are compelled to take.”

We cannot predict whether Arlington will act Sept. 24 to improve its disposition toward racing or how the board might respond. We will keep you apprised of any significant development and will, as Illinois horsemen, continue to do our part to advance the interests of our sport and industry.

A full report of the IRB meeting from Daily Racing Form is available here.

(Arlington Park photo courtesy of Coady Photography)