Upcoming Illinois Gaming Board Meeting Crucial For Hawthorne Racino Project

Written By Joe Boozell on April 18, 2022 - Last Updated on May 2, 2022

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written before the April 28 IGB meeting. Hawthorne was not discussed. 

Leaders of the Hawthorne Race Course racino project are hoping for some good news at the upcoming Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) meeting on Thursday, April 28.

Hawthorne needs IGB approval to resume construction on the project. No work has been done since the winter of 2020.

However, it is possible that the board gives the green light to proceed at the upcoming meeting. John Walsh, Hawthorne’s assistant general manager, recently said:

“We should be going forward sometime this summer.”

The reason for the delay is uncertain, but Hawthorne Race Course president and CEO Tim Carey has hinted that it has to do with project financing. The expansion costs $430 million.

Carey said in 2021:

“We are very, very close, we went out and leveraged ourselves and gutted the location. We’re ready to go. And in difference from the major corporations out there, we’re an Illinois family business. And you know what? It takes some time to get some financing for a $430 million project. You have to get permits done through local municipalities, and that’s just taken more time than we have thought.

The board meeting agenda should become public on April 26. Then, we will know whether Hawthorne will be brought up or not.

Hawthorne carrying Illinois horse racing industry

With Arlington Park shut down, Hawthorne is the only Illinois horse racing track open in the northern part of the state.

In fact, there is only one other horse track in IL. That is FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing, which is located in Collinsville in southern Illinois.

The thoroughbred season began earlier this month at Hawthorne, and without Arlington, there are larger purse sizes and more horses.

However, there are also downsides. Hawthorne will alternate between harness and thoroughbred racing, which will result in certain thoroughbred owners with no races to run during a period in June. That could force owners and horses to leave the state.

Mike Campbell, former president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said:

“It’s surreal. All of us are stunned and disappointed. The racing calendar is totally dysfunctional. In June, the thoroughbred people have to go somewhere else.”

Churchill Downs intends to sell Arlington, which was the most popular horse racing track in Illinois, to the Chicago Bears. The two parties have a purchase agreement in place, but there is no final deal as of now.

A flurry of Illinois casino developments

There is a lot of focus on the six new Illinois casino licenses granted by the legislature in 2019. Five of the six locations have projects in varying stages of the development process, and then there is Chicago.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot intends to select a winning bidder by this summer. The city recently held community meetings for the three remaining proposals, where various members of the public voiced their concerns.

With all of that in mind, it’s easy to forget about the two future racinos in Illinois. Hawthorne is one, and FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing also intends to open one.

Each racetrack already has a sportsbook.

If the IGB allows Hawthorne to proceed with its plans, we could see Illinois’ first racino open in Stickney within a year or two. There is never a dull moment in the Illinois gambling industry.

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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for NCAA.com since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, FoxSports.com and NBA.com. Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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