Illinois Casino Dispute Could Shutter Arlington Racecourse

Illinois Casino Dispute Could Shutter Arlington Racecourse
By Daniel Bettridge

There was drama unfolding in Illinois on Tuesday as the state horse racing regulators threatened to shut down Arlington International Racecourse.

The decision stems from the owners’ refusal to pursue a newly authorized casino license for the suburban track that had long been sought as a financial lifeline for the facility.

The Illinois Racing Board’s dramatic decision came at the conclusion of a routine meeting to set racing dates for the 2020 calendar. Instead, after heated discussion, the board decided to delay any decision by a further seven days to explore the impasse with Arlington’s corporate owners, Churchill Downs Inc.

Casino Controversy Sparks Angry Debate over Arlington

According to a report on the controversy stems from Churchill Downs Inc’s decision not to apply for a gaming license at Arlington under the terms of a new state law.

The refusal is peculiar given that Arlington’s owners have long lobbied for the right to run casino games as a way of increasing the financial viability of the racecourse. It also comes just five months after they reportedly took on a majority stake in the nearby Rivers Casino, which is located less than 15 miles from Arlington itself.

A further report by the Daily Herald, states that the Kentucky-based casino and racetrack owners, blamed high taxes alongside a saturated gambling market for its decision not to invest in the installation of up to 1,200 slots and table games at the track.

The requirement that Arlington International Racecourse would have to pay additional taxes on any gaming revenues in order to fund horse racing purses is also thought to be a bone of contention, with CEO Bill Carstanjen claiming it would make any casino “financially unviable,” according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune added that under existing proposals Arlington would face a tax rate of 17.5% to 20% higher than existing casinos, making it difficult to compete. A newly proposed casino is on the way as well to the Chicago suburbs.

What Next for Historic International Horse Racing Venue?

One of the most concerning things to come out of this week’s meeting was the owners’ statements about how it intends to run Arlington in the future.

Arlington’s owners declined to commit to any schedule beyond 2020 or 2021 raising concerns about the future of the track. Illinois Racing Board Chairman Jeffrey Brincat admitted that regulators were troubled by the lack of committal from Churchill Downs Inc. on the subject.

“I think you have the convergence of a lot of factors here,” he is quoted as saying. “You have a public statement that elicits a lot of questions: that ‘we’re committed for racing in ‘20 and ‘21’? Wait a minute. You’ve been racing for how many years and now you’re saying, ‘We’re good for a couple years.' That begs a lot of obvious questions.”

According to Blood Horse, Commissioner Thomas McCauley was even more vociferous in his criticism, stating that if Arlington’s owners refuse to budge on their position by the time the two parties next meet, that it could spell the end for their racing license.

He said: “…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 and, hence, no racing.”

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Daniel Bettridge has written on everything from pop culture to pro sports for publications such as The Guardian, The Times, The Atlantic and MSN. He is also a gambling enthusiast and author of three books.

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