O'Donnell: Decision day appears to be June 18 for Arlington Park

  • Whether there will be racing this summer at Arlington Park looks like it will come down to a meeting June 18.

    Whether there will be racing this summer at Arlington Park looks like it will come down to a meeting June 18. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 6/8/2020 5:34 PM

THE CHARADE HAS DEVOLVED into numbingly repetitive bad theater.

Bill Carstanjen and Churchill Downs Inc. have no contract with the Illinois Thoroughbred Horseman's Association to race at Arlington Park this summer.


A skeletal Illinois Racing Board officially received that news once again Monday.

Five of the 11 seats on the IRB are currently devoid of appointees through "governor's apathy."

There's obviously much more gold in other gaming hills.

The board holds its next regular monthly meeting June 18.

Tom McCauley -- the lone IRB commissioner with seasoned knowledge of the nuances and realities of the game -- voiced acute concern that the final bugle has all but sounded.

CDI/AP insists it wants to race next year.

But every time a rut in the track to the 2020 starting gate has been removed, subplotters have found a new one to replace it.

"Bunker Bill" and CDI associates speak of "shareholder value" as if they are monsignors marqueed on Vatican altars reciting yet another "Memorare."

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But regarding Arlington Park, concepts such as "regional economic concern" and "integrated corporate vitality" seem as abstract as a midnight ass race on the streets of Louisville.

So the day will come, apparently now much sooner than later, when the speculative rush will begin: Who killed Arlington Park?

WILL IT BE CDI, the out-of-state corporation that operates as if state licenses of privilege in Illinois are mere profit buffets to pick and choose from as its single-minded overseers so wish?

Or will it be the Illinois horsemen, a band of independent contractors and small-business men who can't seem to accept that CDI will do what it wants when it wants in Illinois until a governor and legal staff intervene in the most assertive manner possible?

Or will it be the state of Illinois and its combine of business and political prioritizers, who -- close to three decades ago -- recognized that a button on a slot machine is a far more efficient way of turning a fast buck at the public trough than nine races, six days a week?


Twenty years ago, Dick Duchossois crafted a business deal to exchange his racetrack for close to 22 percent of all Churchill stock. The maneuver appeared to herald an all new golden age of the thoroughbred pursuit in Illinois.

Five years later, CDI recruited the wizardly Carstanjen away from General Electric. There the boy wonder had proved to be an extraordinarily astute student of capitalism-in-the-first-degree in the rank-and-yank regime of the value-ravenous Jack Welch.

As the rush-to-game in America swelled, Carstanjen realized that Churchill the horse track was a singularly splendid calling card to gain entry and ascent into states with legalized gambling.

CDI's priorities shifted. Arlington Park began its long, slow roll to collateral disposable.

NOW CDI/AP AND THE ILLINOIS HORSEMEN are reduced to quibbling over extremely unpredictable economics regarding purse money in 2021.

In truth, the corporation would have been risking no more than roughly $6 million to OK start dates and harmony with the horsemen for both 2020 and 2021 to the IRB on Monday.

Cast that dice roll against recent figures collected by the Illinois Gaming Board:

• In January, pre-pandemic, Rivers Casino in Des Plaines -- of which CDI owns approximately 62 percent -- made $37.3 million from gambling operations alone.

• In February, Rivers "held" $36.3 million.

Also before the COVID-19 plague, CDI stock was bounding along at $167 per share despite a three-for-one split less than two years ago.

During the early weeks of the acknowledged pandemic, CDI shares cratered at $52.

Monday afternoon, they were back galloping out above $150.

Carstanjen and counters can't forward $6 million to give Duchossois -- age 98 -- at least one more run in the sun?

All but the most Putin-like shareholders would likely find redemptive value in that sort of tribute.

Instead, even if Gordon Gekko were one of the remaining committed fans of live racing at AP, he might be saying: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is annoying."

And he too might soon be asking: Who killed Arlington Park? Who'll toll the bell?

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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