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The Officials, cited the owner’s shutdown of horse racing at what could become site of Bears’ new home
Regulators on Thursday turned down Arlington International Racecourse’s request to operate off-track betting parlors in Illinois next year, citing its shutdown of live horse racing at the track.
The Illinois Racing Board voted 5-5 on whether to issue Arlington a license to operate OTB facilities, meaning that the request was rejected.
The owner of Arlington, Churchill Downs Inc., announced this year that it had a preliminary agreement to sell the 326-acre site in Arlington Heights to the Chicago Bears for $197 million.
Officials at Hawthorne Racecourse in west suburban Stickney proposed that they could take over the betting sites, though that could require closing some of its current sites, or a change in state law to raise the maximum number of sites it is allowed.
Racing board staff had recommended approving Arlington’s license. They said Arlington was legally eligible, and that the board had set precedent by allowing Arlington to run off-track betting when it was closed in 1998 and 1999, and likewise for Balmoral and Maywood in 2016.
Opponents, including the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemens Association, argued that Arlington was legally prohibited from operating off-track betting since it wasn’t conducting live racing, and that it wasn’t in the best interests of the sport or the public.
Alan Henry had called it,
He said that the state would not authorize Arlington’s operator, Churchill Downs Inc., to make money from racing at other tracks, after shutting downs its own racing.
It’s now time for this board and this state to move on from Churchill Downs.Henry said.
The decision could affect revenue that is shared with other tracks, horse owners, trainers and jockeys throughout the state. Arlington President Tony Petrillo estimated that if the sites closed, it would jeopardize $2 million to $3 million in gross commissions and race prize money for Hawthorne, and about $300,000 in revenue for Arlington.
For decades, Arlington and horse racing officials had asked state lawmakers to allow them to open casinos at the tracks. Legislators allowed that in 2019, but Churchill Downs had since bought into ownership of nearby Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, and officials said the extra taxes they’d have to pay at the track made it financially unattractive.
Churchill Downs decided against opening a casino at Arlington and instead closed the track in September. Officials chose not to seek live racing for next year, saying they were in preparations for the Bears sale, though that likely would not be finalized until 2022 or 2023.