Arlington Racecourse Won’t Do Casino Gambling
The new laws that permit casino gambling and sports betting at pari-mutuel establishments would seem to be appetizing enough that everybody would be jumping in.
But for Arlington Racecourse, that’s not even close to being the case.
There won’t be any casino games there, at least not any time in the foreseeable future. And there might not even BE a future, if what the ownership group behind the facility is telling the truth (and there’s no reason they wouldn’t be).
Arlington is owned by Churchill Downs, which of course owns the illustrious racetrack in Louisville, not to mention other gaming locations. So it is not as if they have a moral dilemma with the concept of casino gambling. And as for sports betting, they would actually like to have that.
But the tax situation is going to be too impossible, in their estimation.
CEO Bill Carstanjen maintains that the additional taxes that would be charged to Arlington – something that would be required by law in order to fund horse racing purses, would place too great a strain on the enterprise. The estimate is that it would be up to 20% higher than the other casinos in the Chicago area, and that puts them at a competitive disadvantage, for the sake of an activity that is getting increasingly and disproportionately expensive.
Interestingly enough – and the people at Churchill Downs should know this – the idea of having “racinos” was to give some new life to thoroughbred racing. But pari-mutuel venues have been cutting out horses in favor of other live events (such as Jai-Alai) because it’s just cheaper.
Did anyone think that instead of a revival, horse racing might gradually be getting killed off because it’s a loss leader?
Arlington has been in existence for more than 90 years; it is home to the annual Arlington Million as well as Breeders Cup action, but whether they will have racing well into the future is very doubtful. The Churchill people will not commit to a racing schedule beyond 2021, and in the interim, “longer-term alternatives are explored,” according to a statement from the company.
Churchill Downs is very active in the gaming business in Illinois; through their ownership of Rivers Casino they have a facility in Des Plaines for which they recently petitioned to increase the gaming positions from 1200 to 2000. They are also bidding on a license in Waukegan.
1200 Gaming Postitions?
So what are they giving up with Arlington? Well, they would have had the right to install as many as 1200 gaming positions there, so maybe it is money lost. But then again, maybe not. “It is with a heavy heart that we conclude that we can’t make this work,” said Carstanjen.
They are leaving some entities very unhappy with their decision. The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association is one of them. They cite the potential loss of many jobs, along with the fact that Arlington has spent years aggressively lobbying legislators for casino gaming. They are going so far as to suggest that Churchill Downs should be prohibited from applying for a sports betting license in Illinois.