O'Donnell: Please hold all tickets on a Churchill Downs racino in Waukegan

WHEN “BUNKER BILL” CARSTANJEN dropped a bomb on Arlington Park last week, the assumption in many state and national horse racing circles was automatic:

Carstanjen's Churchill Downs Inc. — in partnership with Neil Bluhm's Rush Street Gaming (RSG) — now wants to build a racino in Waukegan and float some form of Arlington's racing legacies to the new site.

But Mayor Sam Cunningham of Waukegan is saying that ain't necessarily so.

“This is the first mention of a racino that I've heard,” Mayor Cunningham responded when asked by The Daily Herald.

“As has been reported, we have forwarded three applicants for a casino license in Waukegan to the Illinois Gaming Board for final consideration. And the group represented by Mr. Bluhm along with Churchill Downs is one of them.

“We are anticipating an answer by this fall. But there have been no discussions whatsoever involving the city of Waukegan and a racino.

“We remain committed to utilizing a new casino to drive the development of an entertainment complex on our Fountain Square property.”

Fountain Square is a 30-acre tract on the far west side of Waukegan, less than two miles east of Interstate 94. It formerly housed Lakehurst Mall.

A racino is technically any racetrack with on-site gaming. In its purest “new form,” it is a facility greatly scaled down for live racing that handles much more from gaming operations than from the hoof-and-tailers.

CDI currently operates racinos in Kentucky, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Carstanjen confirmed the inevitability of the end of Arlington Park as a CDI racing property during an investors quarterly conference call last Thursday.

During the same session, he also announced the corporation had increased its investment in the renovation of northern Kentucky's Turfway Park Racing & Gaming from $150 million to $200 million.

Besides CDI/RSG, the other two finalists for the Waukegan casino license are Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts and North Point Casino, a keenly pro-active group headed by former Grayslake state Sen. Michael Bond.

Mayor Cunningham — who plans to run for a second four-year term next spring — isn't folding any hands by his city's government.

“In any economic times, we'd be foolish not to listen to any proposal by a credible developer,” the 53-year-old insurance veteran said.

“But a racino? Right now, our top priority is to get our citizens through these times and then, hopefully, look forward to a new casino opening sometime late next year.”

STREET-BEATIN': CBS and ESPN share skin at this weekend's PGA: Both are hoping for a deep run by Tiger Woods into Sunday's final round. (Woods first played San Francisco's TPC Harding Park as a teen, but the dank Lake Merced conditions will do little to help his aging back.) Tiger tees Thursday alongside Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas at 10:33 a.m. (ESPN+; ESPN begins at 3 p.m.) ...

A more subtle factor influencing that recent day of cleavers at NBC Sports Chicago is the impressive ad inventory mounting at the Cubs' Marquee Network. (“Sports Talk Live” was long past due for an overhaul; Laurence Holmes is safety-netted at teetering WSCR-AM (670); promising Leila Rahimi simply has to hang in there.) ...

Graffiti for the right stall war: Since the White Sox's stumble out of the gate, Rick Renteria has been outmanaging David Ross. (Face it — the 35th Street Reapers are more fun to watch, even on past Luis Robert to Yoan Moncada and Leury Garcia.) ...

Speaking of the Sox and NBCSCH, if “Fidel: The Musical” is ever cast, Ozzie Guillen is a finalist for the ghost of Che Guevara. (He remains a natural provocateur, even if Jay Mariotti isn't around.) ...

ESPN went lowball and one too deep with the announcement of its new “Monday Night Football” booth featuring Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick. (Three's a crowd; Bristol HQ must be betting on “no season.”) ...

Also on the no-season front, first Big Ten university to cancel its faux 2020 football schedule wins. (It should be Northwestern and sharply tuned-in President Morty Schapiro.) ...

Google is still hoping to purchase Fitbit for $2.1 billion and put “all information collected from wearable devices into a virtual data silo.” (Can the Bulls use the same secret silo for the coaching records of Tim Floyd, Fred Hoiberg and Jim Boylen?) ...

And crosswording reader Glenn Winters — who apparently will be opening at Webster's Comedy Colon when punctuation permits — quipped, “A big vocabulary is like underwear ... everyone should have it, but they shouldn't show it off.”

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

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