Will Arlington Park have a 2020 season? Racing board vote expected today.
The short-term future of Arlington International Racecourse rests in the hands of the Illinois Racing Board, which on Tuesday plans to press parent company Churchill Downs for answers about its long-term plans for the storied racing mecca.
The nine-member state regulatory panel will gather at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago to hear additional testimony from representatives of Arlington - whether they be management based at the Arlington Heights track or corporate brass from the Churchill offices in Louisville, Kentucky.
That's before an expected vote on Arlington's request for 68 live racing dates in 2020.
Saturday marked the last day of the 2019 season at Arlington, but with the track's uncertain future, some racing fans feared it could have been the last day ever.
The board a week ago delayed its annual vote on racing dates after leveling criticism at Churchill for its decision not to apply for long-sought slots and table games at Arlington. Revenue from those casino-style games would help boost declining horse race purses and, supporters believe, resuscitate Illinois' declining horse racing industry.
But Churchill says the gambling market is now saturated and the gambling expansion legislation approved by state lawmakers contains an unfavorable tax structure. The company also now has a majority stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and is bidding for a new casino in Waukegan.
It also hasn't committed to racing at Arlington beyond 2021.
Racing Board Chairman Jeffrey Brincat said Monday he hasn't yet made up his mind about Arlington's request for racing dates, first wanting to hear from track officials Tuesday. The board also will question Mark Laino, the racing board's former executive director, whom they appointed to act as a liaison between a three-person board committee and Churchill.
"How are we to perceive Arlington's commitment to this market?" said Brincat, of Lake Forest. "We have a press release and a failure to submit a gaming license at this time. There's concerns we want to get allayed."
"The final bellwether is going to be what's good for racing," he said.
Brincat said he's also invited representatives of the other two tracks in the state - Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and Fairmount Park in downstate Collinsville - whose requests for racing dates are being held up amid the board's grilling of Churchill.
While Arlington has applied for 68 live dates for thoroughbred racing in 2020 and Hawthorne requested 37, it's possible the Southwest suburban track could get more if the board cuts any or all of Arlington's dates.
Under state law, racing dates must be awarded annually within the last 15 days of September.
The meeting will be held in Room 9-040 of the Thompson Center, with live audio of the meeting available on the board's website.