The Illinois Racing Board rejected on Thursday a request from Arlington International Racecourse to operate off-track betting (OTB) parlors in the state next year. The regulator cited the shutdown of live horse racing at the track when turning down the petition.
The regulator voted 5-5 on whether to issue the license to operate OTB facilities, thus meaning the request was rejected, reports Chicago Tribune. Churchill Downs Inc., owner of the Arlington racetrack, announced earlier this year that it had reached a preliminary agreement to sell the 326-acre site, located in Arlington Heights, to NFL’s Chicago Bears for $197 million.
Officials at Hawthorne Racecourse, in west suburban Stickney, proposed that they could take over the betting sites. This would, however, require closing some current sites, or a change in state law to enable a raise in the maximum number of sites allowed.
Racing board staff had first recommended approving Arilongton’s license, arguing it was legally eligible: the board had set precedent by allowing Arlington to run off-track betting when it was closed in 1998 and 1999. Likewise, Balmoral and Maywood tracks were allowed in 2016 under similar circumstances.
However, this was soon protested by opposing parties, including the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The ITHA argued that Arlington was legally prohibited from operating off-track betting as it was not conducting live racing.
The association also claimed that allowing it to operate OTB facilities wouldn’t have been in the best interest of the sport or the public, as it would have implied authorizing Churchill Downs Inc. to make money from racing being conducted at other tracks.
Arlington President Tony Petrillo said the decision could affect revenue shared with other tracks, horse owners, trainers and jockeys in Illinois, further reports Chicago Times. Petrillo estimated that, if the sites close, 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.
Racetracks in the state received permission from lawmakers to open casinos at the tracks in 2019, following decades-long petitions from horse racing officials in Illinois, among them Churchill Downs.
However, by the time it became legal to do so, Churchill Downs had since bought into ownership of the nearby Rivers Casino in Des Plaines. Officials said the extra taxes they’d have to pay at the track made it financially unattractive, and thus Churchill Downs opted to not open a casino at Arlington, closing the track in September.
The company also chose not to seek live racing for 2022, in preparations for the Bears sale, which is set to be finalized in 2022 or 2023. According to chief operating officer Bill Mudd, CDI is seeking another site in Illinois to hold live racing.
Despite this announced commitment to a new racetrack, no potential locations have yet been named. However, Mudd did note that the two remaining tracks in the state, Hawthorne and Fairmount, have not opened racinos in the two years since the law allowed it.