O'Donnell: End of Arlington Park could be accelerated due to contract stalemate with horsemen

  • The president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association said Wednesday he'd put the likelihood of racing at Arlington Park next year at 50 percent.

    The president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association said Wednesday he'd put the likelihood of racing at Arlington Park next year at 50 percent. Daily Herald Photo

 
Updated 12/18/2019 8:34 PM

THE END COULD BE COMING on much faster for Arlington Park than many people think.

While Bill Carstanjen -- the CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. -- has publicly stated the local oval will race next year and in 2021, that apparently ain't necessarily so.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Current contract negotiations between CDI/AP and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association over purse levels for 2020 are spinning into a burn.

According to state racing law, a contract is to be in place no later than Dec. 31.

CDI/AP is reportedly offering roughly $130,000 for each of the scheduled 68 days of live product beginning next May.

The ITHA is demanding $200,000, even if it means Carstanjen and Co. have to cancel Million Day next year -- normally a huge annual drain on the local purse account -- and write a one-time check for as much as $4 million to guarantee at least one final season.

Regional states with racing including Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota -- all fueled by supplemental on-site gaming -- fall into the $180,000 to $200,000 average daily range.

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Asked what the chances are as of Wednesday that Arlington will race next year, Mike Campbell, president of the ITHA since 2010, told The Daily Herald: "I'd say it's 50 percent."

Carstanjen -- who for the first time will reportedly personally sign off on the next AP-ITHA deal, superseding local functionaries -- did not make himself available for comment.

Campbell and fellow horsemen are still reeling from Carstanjen's announcement in August that CDI would decline enabling Illinois legislation to host video and table gaming at the track, new law that would have greatly juiced purses and saved AP.

"We're prepared for anything from (CDI), however unfortunate it might be for the taxpayers of Illinois," Campbell said.

"There's still far too much unknown about why Carstanjen announced the decision he did last August.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This is a matter that should be looked into by governing agencies extending up to (the federal Securities and Exchange Commission).

"Horsemen sacrificed and worked with the Chicago-area race tracks for almost 20 years to get that new law.

"And then CDI, less than one year after it acquires a controlling interest in a very successful casino less than 10 miles from Arlington (62% of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines) doesn't want to facilitate the industry-saving legislation.

"Did they enter into a noncompete clause with the original ownership of Rivers as a condition of their purchase last year?

"If they did, because of the enormous impact on businesses in the state, especially people in and around thoroughbred racing, what avenues of recourse are available to us, assisted by governmental agencies and otherwise?"

The Churchill steamroller has been a formidable one, amazingly successful in elevating shareholder value under Carstanjen.

Its had to knock down Hollywood Park near LAX and convert Florida's Calder Race Course into a racing shell with a casino to gas that ascent.

And now it appears that it's not a question of whether Arlington Park will be the third leg of the corporately carnivorous trifecta.

Once again, simply a question of how soon.

STREET-BEATIN': The struggling NBA can't present a better December event than LeBron James and the Lakers (24-4) vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the host Bucks (24-4) Thursday night (TNT, 7 p.m.). Reports of Anthony Davis's ankle sprain should push an impacting chunk of money toward MILW. ... John Paxson's impromptu one-on-ones with beat writers and housemen last weekend hint at nothing more than a deflective attempt at impinged image control. Ol' No. 5 -- as intensely competitive a fellow as any Bull ever -- is getting to the point where it's his choice between a healthy life and happiness or the endless residuals of Jerry Reinsdorf's "Curse of the Breakup." ... Subtext to Saturday's Northwestern-DePaul game is a tale of two coaches: Chris Collins is in the basketball battle of his life to stay relevant in the region; Dave Leitao has to find a way to get consistency out of Charlie Moore, who plays like he's not in top shape and far too frequently devolves into a predictably implosive brand of little-guy hero ball. ... Sorting out the broadcast plans for the Blue Demons-Wildcats showdown (Wintrust Arena, 7:30 p.m.) should qualify anyone who can do it for automatic admission into either university. Easy part -- CBSSN televises. Double radio with NU's Dave Eanet and Joey Meyer bumped from WGN AM-720 to ESPN AM-1000 and DePaul's Dave Corzine and Zach Zaidman switched to WIND AM-560 from WSCR AM-670. ... After 23 years as Coordinating Producer for CBS Golf, Lance Barrow has announced that the 2020 PGA season will be his last. Barrow succeeded the mythic Frank Chirkinian in 1997 but not before both got to play themselves in the armadillo-driven Ron Shelton/Kevin Costner tee pic "Tin Cup." ... Taylor Bell -- along with Bob Frisk, the two greatest prep sports voices of the past six decades in Chicago-area newspapering -- modestly admits that he now has more than 7 million followers on TripAdvisor. (Bell followed Frisk at The Daily Illini and then Bell welcomed aboard an ambitious young undergrad from Urbana named Roger Ebert.) ... Fox producers needed to have Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis mention a few more times last Sunday that the Bears-Packers game was "a rivalry." (Branch Davidians were subject to less audio torture.) ... And, does anyone remember "hunger?": When Joe Burrow put in an eloquent plug for a food pantry in his impoverished southeast Ohio during his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, some media immediately began referring to it as the region's "food insecurity rate."

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

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