ITHA takes CDI to task for Arlington casino decision

Posted: Oct. 5, 2019

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association issued a statement regarding the decision by Churchill Downs Inc. not to pursue a gaming license for Arlington Park and has asked the Illinois Gaming Board to deny the company a sports betting license at Arlington:

Churchill Downs is not only failing to do its part to help fuel the growth of Illinois horse racing, by virtue of its decision not to apply for a license to operate a racino at Arlington Park, it also is suppressing the growth of racing by preventing another owner from maximizing Arlington’s potential.

In an op-ed published Oct. 4 by Crain’s Chicago Business, ITHA President Mike Campbell argued that it’s time for Churchill to step aside:

“Churchill should divest Arlington to a qualified owner that will operate the racetrack as a racino. If Churchill refuses, the Illinois Gaming Board could hold the company accountable by denying its request for a sports betting license—our association has urged the board, which will soon evaluate license applications, to do just that—and by blocking it from a financial interest in the expansion casinos.”

While the operation of casino gaming at Arlington would help boost purses and live racing—the intent of the state’s new gaming law—sports betting linked to Arlington will do nothing to benefit purses. But as Campbell noted in his column, Churchill is deriving financial gain through its continued control of Arlington even as it acts to the detriment of Illinois horse racing and the best interests of this state’s taxpayers.

Churchill, which now owns the majority stake in Rivers Casino, could gain a distinct advantage over other casinos in the sports betting arena. Under the state’s new gaming law, each casino may be entitled to use their single location to operate sports betting and also register individuals who wish to engage in sports betting via a mobile application. However, Arlington and the state’s other racetracks may be permitted to engage in these activities at up to four locations including the racetrack and three inter-track wagering locations. Churchill, beyond its foothold at Rivers, therefore is poised to conduct this activity at four additional and separate locations.

Churchill also could continue taking “recapture” from the horsemen’s purse account. (In 2019 alone, the track is reaping $4.47 million.) Illinois lawmakers, as part of the new gaming law, intended to end the practice of recapture and, in doing so, provide an additional boost to our industry. Once a track is deriving revenue from a racino operation, under the new law, the Illinois Racing Board will not again certify recapture for that track.

But Churchill, having opted not to pursue a racino at Arlington, could under the new law conceivably continue to take that subsidy—thereby perpetuating the damage to the purse account and the economic opportunity that is intended to result from Illinois horse racing—indefinitely.

But most importantly, Churchill’s continued control of Arlington prevents a qualified entity from operating Arlington as a racino—as intended by the new gaming law. Campbell concluded his column:

“Surely, the Gaming Board won’t allow a single company operating in bad faith to stifle the growth of Illinois horse racing, reduce its own competition, exploit state law to dramatically expand its sports betting footprint, and continue to drain purses through the practice of recapture that the governor and legislature, acting on the belief that Churchill would develop a racino at Arlington, moved to abolish.”

ITHA Shares Perspective with Illinois Gaming Board

The Gaming Board will soon draft administrative rules to implement sports betting in this state and, thereafter, consider applications from prospective sports betting licensees. The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, in a detailed submission, urged the board to:

  • Formulate the test of character and fitness embodied in the rules to emphasize the careful consideration of the honesty and integrity of the license applicant.
  • Deny Churchill’s request for a sports betting license linked to Arlington as a demonstration of the board’s commitment to ensuring that a prospective licensee that has shown contempt for the good faith efforts of Illinois lawmakers and has violated the public trust as expressed by the terms of the new gaming law will not be rewarded with the privilege to engage in sports betting.
  • Deny Churchill’s request for a sports betting license linked to Rivers Casino or any other gaming property in Illinois until such time that Churchill has divested itself of Arlington, to a qualified entity that will operate the facility as a racino, as a demonstration of the board’s commitment to promoting fairness, honesty and integrity, and competition across the state’s gaming landscape.

The ITHA will continue to advocate for the growth and advancement of Illinois Thoroughbred horse racing and will keep Illinois thoroughbred owners and trainers posted on any major developments.

(Arlington Park photo courtesy of Coady Photography)