O'Donnell: McCauley emerges as voice of the people in Arlington Park situation

  • Illinois Racing Board Commissioner Tom McCauley speaks with Arlington Park President Tony Petrillo Tuesday in Chicago.

    Illinois Racing Board Commissioner Tom McCauley speaks with Arlington Park President Tony Petrillo Tuesday in Chicago. Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Updated 9/19/2019 6:02 AM

TO THOSE FAMILIAR with his bona fides, Tom McCauley is not an unlikely hero.

In 1983, as a young attorney, he represented Dick Duchossois, Sheldon Robbins, Joe Joyce and Ralph Ross when they purchased Arlington Park from Gulf & Western.


By 1986, when Duchossois bought out his three partners, McCauley was general counsel at AP.

He was also a critical intellect in decision-making and other backstage maneuvering as the streamlined corporation sought most favorable governmental considerations as a prelude to the permanent reconstruction of the track after its catastrophic fire of 1985.

In 1988, Duchossois had a dream team in place headed by charismatic young president Ken Dunn, Robbins -- the pragmatic dark-nook wizard still on retainer as a consultant -- and McCauley, from the firm of Carroll, Hartigan and McCauley.

All of that began to unravel later that year when Duchossois made the game-changing decision to bring aboard Ed Duffy, an ex-Chicago cop, one-term village trustee in Arlington Heights and an up-level utility man in the administration of Gov. Jim Thompson.

By 1991, with Duffy's ambitious star in ascent, Dunn, Robbins and McCauley all moved away from Duchossois and his sparkling new racetrack.

Within a year, also gone was Dayle Duchossois-Fortino -- Duchossois's eldest daughter -- along with husband Ed Fortino.

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McCauley stayed with the successful practice of law, eventually joining the Chicago firm of Nisen and Elliott.

As any sort of presence on the local racing and gaming landscape, he was merely a memory of extreme brightness and consistently appropriate affability.

In 2014, Gov. Pat Quinn -- a fellow alumnus of Fenwick High -- appointed McCauley to the Illinois Racing Board.

To longtime AP watchers, it was like hearing a law-based Phil Georgeff was making an improbable comeback on an unexpected side of the binoculars.

For five years, McCauley quietly commissioned along with others on the historically pliable IRB.

Until Tuesday.

That's when McCauley brought "Mr. Smith" game to the board's annual dates hearing and for now, at least, temporarily halted the extraordinary imperiousness of Bill Carstanjen and his ever-expanding Churchill Downs Inc.

After a cordial fileting of Tony Petrillo -- the Duchossois/Arlington hireling whom Carstanjen sent to the hearing as his lead representative -- McCauley moved that:


• The awarding of racing dates for 2020 be postponed until a special IRB meeting next Tuesday;

• A three-man "ad hoc committee" be immediately appointed by the IRB to serve as "liaison" to CDI to find out if there is any wiggle room in its declination of a state license to conduct video and table gaming at the local oval; and,

• The possibility of not awarding CDI/AP any dates for 2020 be left open until further due consideration.

Illinois racing is not accustomed to this sort of bold and independent populist thought.

Since his announcement three weeks ago that Arlington would accept a license for sports gaming but not for tables and videos because of corporately unfavorable economics, Carstanjen now finds himself on a most precarious tightrope in Illinois.

Sparked by McCauley's Trumanism, Gov. J.B. Pritzker could greatly tweak that rope under CDI if he:

• Orders his legal staff, the IRB and the Illinois Gaming Board to work in concert to explore the possibility of not only denying CDI license to race and conduct sports gaming at Arlington next year, but to also announce that CDI/Rivers and all are no longer a candidate for the new casino license in Waukegan; and,

• Have his staff and the IGB explore the possibility of suspending or revoking the CDI/Rivers license to operate its golden Des Plaines casino.

That would certainly draw anxious attention from the most inner sanctum of CDI/HQ.

Five years ago, the state of Louisiana went through extended agency efforts to see to it that CDI made stipulated repairs to its Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots in New Orleans, and that proper purse distribution was made to horsemen.

The matter sequenced through Louisiana's tricky legislative channels before a compromise was reached.

Along the way, one influential legislator quite publicly noted "a trust issue" with Churchill Downs Inc.

Tuesday, in his own way, Tom McCauley did the same thing for the voiceless taxpaying herd of Illinois.

STREET-BEATIN': The Bears-Washington ESPN Monday nighter will be available on WGN-Channel 9 after ABC/WLS-Channel 7 passed on the telecast. There'll never be a better time for TV sound down, Tom Thayer and Jeff Joniak up on WBBM-AM (780); Channel 9 will have Jarrett Payton and Lauren Magiera at FedExField for pregame and postgame analysis beginning at 6:30 p.m. … Free Bears programming tip for Ron Gleason and quality control at WBBM-AM: Ditch the pregame "beat writers" segment pronto. The babble-ons are disruptive, banal and closer in tone to a Paw Patrol Pawty than an element of a major-market NFL broadcast. … Fox catches a dandy Saturday matinee with No. 11 Michigan (2-0) at No. 13 Wisconsin (2-0) (11 a.m., Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt). Cheesers can dream all they want about the Badgers (at -3, a lock and a 'shoo) making it all the way to their Oct. 26 date vs. Ohio State unbeaten and unscored upon and megastar back Jonathan Taylor running away with the Heisman Trophy. … There is dull, there is bland and then there are those periodic Cubs Ambien segments on WXRT-FM (93.1)'s morning show featuring Lin Brehmer and Len Kasper. Audio of planning meetings involving Yellow Pages strategists would be more entertaining. … The pedigree will thicken if Craig Karmazin buys WGN-AM (720) for his Good Karma Brands from new owner Nexstar before the ink is dry on Karmazin's deal to lease Chicago's AM-1000 from ESPN. AM-720 would mean a better signal, better dial position and much more amenable turnaround situation. … And even "Jeopardy!" James Holzhauer might have been stumped by a recent NBC Sports promo announcing: "Matt Rambo and Whipsnakes meet Ryder Garnsey and Redwoods in inaugural PLL championship." (What is lacrosse? -- It's the Premier Lacrosse League finale, Saturday at 1:30 p.m.).

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

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