Illinois Racing Board OKs Dates for Arlington Park Despite Qualms Over Casino Plans

Posted on: September 24, 2019, 06:40h. 

Last updated on: October 23, 2019, 03:44h.

The Illinois Racing Board (IRB) voted unanimously Tuesday to approve racing dates for the 2020 calendar year. But that didn’t stop some members from questioning Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) officials about the company’s commitment to Arlington Park and its opposition to building a casino at the suburban Chicago track.

The Arlington Million, the signature race at Arlington Park, will run in 2020 after the Illinois Racing Board approved the suburban Chicago track’s request for 68 live racing dates next year. State officials have expressed serious concerns about Arlington owner Churchill Downs’ decision not to apply for a casino license at the track. (Image:

The move means Arlington will get the 68 days it requested for thoroughbred racing for next year. However, the vote came a week later than expected after state officials raised concerns about CDI’s decision last month not to apply for a casino license.

IRB Chairman Jeffrey Brincat said it’s now up to all parties to move forward and work toward a common goal of bolstering racing in the state.

Am I happy without a casino at Arlington? Of course not,” he said at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. “Do I believe it was the intention of the legislature to do a casino at every racetrack? Of course. At the same time, as a businessman, I understand everybody’s got to walk the path that’s best for them.

“So, I charge everybody to continue to work as hard as we can, find as best solutions, and therein we’ll do what we’ve dreamed about for a better part of two decades, and that’s restoring Illinois racing.”

The racetracks received the right to pursue a casino license, with up to 1,200 slot machines, thanks to expanded gaming legislation state lawmakers passed earlier this year.

Churchill Still Reviewing Options

Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said last month the terms under which Arlington Park would be granted a license for casino gaming would not produce acceptable returns. The Louisville, Ky.-based company already owns a majority share in the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, which is less than a half-hour away in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

That news did not sit well with Illinois officials, who considered withholding the racing dates from Arlington as a result. The board suspended its September meeting, which started last Tuesday, for a week in order to hold discussions with Arlington and Churchill officials. However, those talks did not result in any progress.

The Board met for more than an hour Tuesday, with Arlington’s issues taking up all the discussion. Commissioner Thomas McCauley had some of the most pointed questions to Arlington Park President Tony Petrillo and CDI Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brad Blackwell.

Blackwell repeatedly declined to discuss the company’s plans for the track, including the possibility of selling the track. He told the commissioners it would be “irresponsible” for him to answer such questions in a public setting.

However, Blackwell did indicate that the company would like some time to figure out what is best for Arlington. He noted that the company’s namesake track waited for years before pursuing historical horse racing while other Kentucky tracks opened parlors.

“We don’t have all the answers now, but what we’re committed to doing is trying to find those answers,” he said. “Sometimes that takes time, sometimes it’s not as obvious as it may appear”

Concerns Over Job Losses

Petrillo said Arlington Park employed 2,353 people during the last two years, including full-time, part-time, and seasonal workers. He told the IRB that any gains that would be made through expanded gaming would pale in comparison to the loss of jobs if the state chose to pull the racing dates for 2020.

That argument ended up winning the board. At least for now.

“At this point, there would be so much disruption with respect to worker’s lives if this schedule materially changed that I’m going to vote yes,” McCauley said.