Now at max, Hawthorne seeks state law change to reopen more Arlington betting parlors

Hawthorne Race Course Thursday picked up one more of Arlington Park's shuttered off-track betting parlors - this one in Rockford - giving the Cicero racetrack its maximum 16 allowed under state statute.

But there's legislation proceeding in Springfield this week that would remove that cap.

The Illinois Racing Board's unanimous approval Thursday of an inter-track wagering location license and an associated concessionaire license will allow Hawthorne to reopen the OTB inside Don Carter Lanes bowling alley, pending state inspections next week.

It marks the sixth former Arlington parlor acquired by Hawthorne, which received licenses late last year for the ones in Aurora, Hoffman Estates, McHenry and North Aurora, and last month in Villa Park.

Arlington and corporate owner Churchill Downs Inc. sought to keep open their network of OTBs, despite the iconic Arlington Heights racecourse's Sept. 25 closure and pending $197.2 million sale to the Chicago Bears. The racing board denied the request on a 5-5 vote in December.

That led Hawthorne to lobby for changes to state law that would allow it to acquire other closed OTBs formerly operated by Arlington.

A bill introduced in January by state Sen. Bill Cunningham - the Senate Democrats' point person on gambling issues - would remove the current parlor limit in the Illinois Horse Racing Act. The bill has registered support from Hawthorne and groups representing Illinois horse owners and trainers, but it is formally opposed by lobbyists for Churchill Downs, according to witness slips filed on the bill.

The measure passed unanimously out of the Senate's executive committee last week.

Hawthorne also has sought to reopen Arlington's former OTB in Green Oaks, but licensing requests were pulled in January because the application for concessionaire Post Time Sports Bar & Grille was deemed "deficient" by the racing board staff. Other closed parlors formerly operated by Arlington are at Arlington Trackside on the racecourse property at Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road in Arlington Heights, on Weed Street in Chicago, and in Hodgkins.

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