Arlington Park befuddled by racing board vote
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Arlington Park officials didn't get the racing schedule they sought from the Illinois Racing Board, and now they're uncertain if they can invest in lights for limited night racing.
George LeClaire | Staff Photographer
The sweeping changes Arlington Park officials were seeking didn't come to fruition Tuesday as the Illinois Racing Board unveiled a 2012 thoroughbred racing schedule remarkably similar to this year's version.
"We're befuddled, bewildered and don't understand how the same schedule is going to produce different results," Arlington Park general manager Tony Petrillo said after learning that the 2012 schedule has Arlington racing from May 1 to Sept. 30 again, with Hawthorne Race Course operating the early spring and late fall meets.
Now the big question is: might the 3 night racing dates approved for Arlington next year (June 30, July 21 and Aug. 25) be affected by the board's decision?
Arlington Park officials had argued Hawthorne should not run a spring meet in 2012 and wanted the money made through simulcasting during that dark time used to increase purses for Arlington's 2012 meet. In addition, Arlington was hoping to use a portion of that revenue to offset the cost of installing lights at the track.
"Night racing, as we said in our application, is a significant investment — between $1.2 and $1.5 million for the lighting infrastructure and the promotion and entertainment aspects," Petrillo said. "In order for us to do that, we need a new source of revenue. I'm not sure how we find other sources of revenue within our existing race schedule and the schedule the board approved for 2012 to justify that expense.
"We fought hard, we had a plan and we stuck with it this year. We've shown a lot of improvement being that we're slightly up in handle, but that slight margin that we're up in handle is nowhere near the financial resources we need in order to invest in night racing."
Petrillo admitted that some of the recently freed-up casino impact fee money set aside for capital expenses at the track could help defray some of the costs of installing lights, but he would have to sell the track's owners, Churchill Downs Inc., on the plan.
"You're asking for a company to take that money and make a decision between continuing capital improvements for the long term or taking the risk on something like night racing, where that's money that doesn't have any revenue or depreciation or any financial benefit associated with it," he said. "That's a much greater risk."
But is it a risk worth taking?
"I have to determine how we can build a business plan that allows the (CDI) board of directors and the executive board to make a decision that it's worth investing in Illinois racing," he said. "That's very difficult after the racing board's decision (Tuesday)."
Over the vigorous opposition of Arlington, the racing board awarded Hawthorne Racecourse officials a 2012 spring meet from Feb. 17 through April 30, but indicated it will be keeping a close eye on how things proceed.
Despite the setback, Petrillo said it's all systems go for Arlington in 2012.
"We're going to go back to work; we're not going to sit and sulk," he said. "We've got a job to do. We're going to put on the best race meet we can."
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