Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill.
The following statement was issued by the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association:
The Illinois attorney general’s office has been urged to investigate whether Churchill Downs Inc. committed state or federal antitrust violations when it took a series of steps to preclude casino gaming and diminish pari-mutuel wagering at a site in close proximity to its Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Ill.
Churchill spent two decades pursuing the authority to operate a casino at the Arlington Park racetrack in Arlington Heights, but, after purchasing the majority stake in Rivers, maneuvered to end gaming at the nearby track. Churchill abruptly abandoned its Arlington casino plan and, in moving to sell the property, insisted the site’s future use would be “higher and better” than horse racing – effectively ending the continuation of meaningful pari-mutuel wagering activity. All the while, Churchill executives were careful in their public comments to avoid stipulating any motive on their part to suppress competition facing Rivers, their highly successful casino.
Also established is that Churchill contradicted the intent of a 2019 Illinois law that authorized a casino license for Arlington – the privilege that Churchill had sought before purchasing its stake in Rivers. Churchill’s decision to forgo the option to open a casino at Arlington surprised Illinois elected officials who backed the 2019 law; the Arlington casino was intended by state officials to generate new tax revenue for the state and local governments, boost pari-mutuel wagering, enhance the racing program at the track, and create scores of new racing-related jobs.
But unclear is whether Churchill’s steps rose to violations of state or federal antitrust laws. In a letter to the Illinois attorney general’s office, Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, described a pattern of deceit by Churchill executives and argued that the publicly available evidence supports the launch of an antitrust investigation.
“Churchill executives evidently engaged in a campaign to block current and future gaming scenarios at Arlington while telegraphing messages to deflect public attention from its actual intent: shielding Rivers from a major gaming competitor in close proximity,” Campbell wrote in the letter, which also was forwarded to the U.S. Justice Department. A PDF of the letter is available here.
Arlington is just a 12-mile drive from Rivers; a reinvigorated horse racing program at Arlington, particularly as part of a casino entertainment complex, would become the closest major gaming competitor to Rivers. In February, Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes told ABC7/WLS-TV in Chicago what others had privately concluded. “I think it’s clear why they did not choose to open a casino at the racetrack property – because it would directly compete with their majority interest in the Rivers Casino,” he said of Churchill.
Churchill plans to accept bids for the purchase of Arlington in mid-June. Amid widespread concern that Churchill might be angling to preclude a future owner of Arlington from engaging in forms of gaming, the Arlington Heights village board in early May approved an ordinance intended to prohibit Churchill from placing certain restrictions – specifically, those that would prevent future gaming – on the property.
Campbell noted in the letter to the Illinois attorney general’s office that the ITHA brought to the attention of Illinois racing regulators a reported offer in 2019 by a group of prospective owners to purchase Arlington from Churchill with the intent of continuing racing, and developing a casino, at that site. Churchill reportedly refused but never publicly noted any such offer.
“It’s unfortunate that Churchill Downs, once a stalwart of thoroughbred racing, appears now to care solely about corporate profit. But Illinois isn’t Churchill’s trough – our state doesn’t exist to feed Churchill’s greed,” Campbell said. “A gaming license such as the one granted to Rivers Casino is a privilege. It means Churchill has a responsibility to follow the law, particularly when the law is aimed at serving the best interests of Illinois taxpayers.”
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2021 Paulick Report.