Arlington Park: Too soon to say when casino games will be available

  • Arlington International Racecourse is eligible for slot machines, table games and sports betting under state legislation approved over the weekend, but officials say it could be at least another year before they're available.

      Arlington International Racecourse is eligible for slot machines, table games and sports betting under state legislation approved over the weekend, but officials say it could be at least another year before they're available. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/4/2019 8:41 AM

Arlington International Racecourse officials said Monday they are pleased with legislation passed over the weekend permitting slots, table games and sports betting at the Arlington Heights-based track, though it's too early to say when bettors will be able to take a spin on the roulette wheel after placing trifecta bets.

The track has lobbied state lawmakers for two decades for more gambling to boost a struggling state horse racing industry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Arlington officials and their lobbyists spent the last two weeks in Springfield as lawmakers hammered out a deal that culminated with approval of a massive gambling expansion bill in House and Senate chambers that Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he plans to sign into law.

Tony Petrillo, president of Arlington Park, on Monday was still combing through all 816 pages of the bill -- it also allows six new casinos and betting at other sports facilities in Illinois -- to better understand what it means to the racetrack in economic terms.

He expressed cautious optimism that Arlington would be in a better place by being able to offer casino-style gambling and supplement declining purse revenues lost to other states that already have so-called racinos. But, he stressed the economic impact may be different today than even five years ago because of the increase in video gambling now allowed in communities.

"We're thankful to the legislative leaders in the House and Senate and governor for getting this done," Petrillo said.

It could take about a year to work through the details of providing more gambling at Arlington and the approval process with the Illinois Gaming Board, then pursue any building approvals needed through the village of Arlington Heights, before slots and games become available at the track, he said.

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David McCaffrey, executive director of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which also has been involved in the lobbying effort for decades, expressed hope expanded gambling would allow Arlington to "become a leader in national horse racing again."

"When purses are substantially larger -- and the live racing schedule is considerably expanded -- Illinois racing will be in a position to recover the jobs lost to other states with more competitive racing opportunities and, ultimately, create even more jobs," McCaffrey wrote in a statement.

He added it will take some time before Illinois thoroughbred purses are substantially improved.

Under the legislation, Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero are each eligible for up to 1,200 gambling positions, while Fairmount Park in Collinsville can get up to 900 positions.

Arlington will have to pay the state a $250,000 application fee for an organization gaming license, and a fee of $30,000 per position, though Petrillo said the mix of how many slot machines and table games the track will request hasn't been determined.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Gambling will be permitted within the grandstand building or a facility within 300 yards of it, though Petrillo said the internal layout of where slots and table games could be located is also still to be determined.

Arlington also successfully lobbied to be able to allow sports betting at its betting windows. Those bets, along with the casino-style games, could be made year-round, even after live horse racing has gone dark for the year, Petrillo said.

The legislation doesn't allow Arlington Heights to regulate or license the track's gambling operations. Village officials have said they support anything in the short or long term that will help Arlington Park remain open, and in 2015 they drafted a letter to state leaders in support of expanded gambling at the track.

Before Monday night's village board meeting, officials said they were still in the process of reviewing the legislation to understand the local impact it would have on the village, but generally believe it would be a benefit to one of the town's major venues and employers.

"It'll be a great thing," said Trustee Bert Rosenberg, who served as president pro tem with Mayor Tom Hayes out of town. "It'll be an additional source of revenue for them."

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