Churchill Downs Wants To Expand Gambling Options in Illinois

Posted on: August 4, 2019, 07:11h. 

Last updated on: August 4, 2019, 09:26h.

Churchill Downs Inc., the majority owner of Rivers Casino Des Plaines in Illinois, plans to add more gaming offerings at the venue as well as a sportsbook. It is also trying to land one of six casino licenses to be offered in the Land of Lincoln.

Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen wants to see more gambling options in Illinois for the company. (Image:

The company may additionally want more gaming choices at Arlington International Racecourse, Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said during an Aug. 1 conference call on second quarter results.

Under a new Illinois law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in June, Rivers can add up to 800 gaming positions from the current 1,200. Carstanjen told analysts that the venue “plans to implement all 800 gaming positions.”

The positions include a mix of table games and slot machines. The exact breakdown has not yet been announced, but it may depend on how much the different types will be taxed.

Rivers was the only casino in Illinois that recently applied for expanded gaming positions, Carstanjen said. He added that “a handful of others” asked for an extension before applying.

The company will have to pay $24 million for a licensing fee. Some 200 to 250 of these positions can be added without expanding the gaming floor.

But the balance will not fit without the company increasing the size of the gaming area. Also, in 2020 Rivers will pay another $10 million licensing fee for a sports wagering license.

“We’re very excited about the potential of the Illinois sports wagering market — which includes both online and mobile, and the brick and mortar opportunity,” Carstanjen said. Eventually, Rivers may also construct a hotel at the complex.

Arlington Track May See More Gaming Options

Churchill Downs may also try to add up to 1,200 gaming positions at the Arlington track. The company will not make a decision on the race track until later this month, and Carstanjen did not rule out adding sports betting at Arlington, too.

This is an important time for Rivers Casino and our company as a whole in Illinois,”  Carstanjen said during the conference call. During March, Churchill Downs completed a 61 percent acquisition of Rivers Casino Des Plaines.

The new state law also allows for the six new casinos licenses, including a much-anticipated venue in Chicago. “We expect to participate in a bid for one of the casinos,” Carstanjen said.

“Our company sees opportunity for growth in Illinois,” he said. Carstanjen did not rule out working with a partner if it gets one of the new licenses.

Pritzker praised the new bill and noted how many earlier attempts by the legislature failed. He added that the law will keep more gamblers in the state rather than having them go to neighboring locations.

Churchill Downs Venues Have Reach

“Churchill Downs, Arlington International, and Rivers have a tremendous reach within … Chicago to [the] NW Illinois suburbs,” Cory Aronovitz, an attorney at the Casino Law Group in Illinois, told

“Competition is ultimately good for the state and the consumer,” Aronovitz added. “It requires better product services and non-gaming amenities, and the better the product the more attractive to the consumer, ultimately keeping the gaming in Illinois, which is better for the state.”

He further described Illinois as a “large state with a good base of consumers,” he said. “I anticipate significant interest from many national gaming companies.

“The additional development ensures that these entities can provide different products for different clients and add value through multiple properties and player reward programs,” he added.

Aronovitz pointed out that “the most interesting part” of the new law is the “Southern Illinois, Fairmount Park opportunity… That location has the ability to draw from several existing gaming markets that do not have the footprint offered by Fairmount.”

“I am anticipating a development that creates a destination resort with premium gaming, higher purses, and better races and other non-gaming amenities,” he said. “The governor has already visited that project and I agree that the economic development, job creation and stimulus to non-gaming support industries can transform that area consistent with the tremendous job the track has already done prior to gaming.”