Illinois Horsemen Call For Antitrust Investigation Into Churchill Downs

Posted By Joe Boozell on June 2, 2021

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (ITHA) wants Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to look into possible violation of antitrust laws by Churchill Downs Inc.

This stems from Churchill’s decision not to pursue a “racino” at the Arlington International Racecourse.

Churchill Downs purchased a 61% stake in nearby Rivers Casino a few years ago. Since then, it has changed its tune about welcoming slots and table games at the Arlington racetrack. Churchill had lobbied for casino gambling for two decades before the Rivers purchase, but but began opposing them in 2019.

ITHA president Mike Campbell (pictured above) wrote a letter to Raoul’s office asking him to investigate whether Churchill has violated state or federal antitrust laws.

Via the Daily Herald, Campbell wrote:

“Churchill executives evidently engaged in a campaign to block current and future gaming scenarios at Arlington while telegraphing messages to deflect public attention from its actual intent: shielding Rivers from a major gaming competitor in close proximity. Whether Churchill’s steps rose to the level of illegal anticompetitive behavior, we respectfully submit, is worthy of your review.”

Arlington Park is less than a 20-minute drive from Rivers Casino.

Churchill Downs responded with the statement below:

“Churchill Downs Incorporated evaluated the Illinois Gaming Act and determined the economic terms to pursue a gaming license were not viable for Arlington International Racecourse. As announced earlier this year, CDI has retained a real estate brokerage to market the property and expects bids by the end of next month. We intend to move forward with this plan and are undeterred by ITHA’s baseless allegations.”

Churchill Downs officially put Arlington Park up for sale earlier this year.

“Illinois isn’t Churchill’s trough — our state doesn’t exist to feed Churchill’s greed,” Campbell wrote. “A gaming license, such as the one granted to Rivers Casino, is a privilege.”

Arlington Heights, Churchill Downs also sparring

In May, the city of Arlington Heights took measures to keep horse racing and gaming alive at the park.

The city’s village board approved an ordinance barring Churchill Downs from putting a restrictive covenant tied to horse racing and gambling on the land.

Churchill still has the final say on the sale. But city officials are trying to prevent future uses such as funeral parlors, adult businesses, carwashes, wholesale offices, etc.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes laid out his vision for the land last month to the Daily Herald:

“It really is incumbent upon us as a diligent village that has 326 acres of prime real estate up for sale within our borders that we take all necessary actions and precautions to ensure that a high-quality development is redeveloped there. We’re trying to attract really serious investors that want to redevelop this very prime piece of real estate into something that’s befitting of our community and the region.”

Illinois doesn’t have many other horse racing venues outside or Arlington Park.

Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing in Collinsville are the other two tracks. Collinsville is located in southern Illinois.

Could the Chicago Bears move to Arlington Park?

Illinoisans have likely heard plenty of Arlington Park-Bears buzz over the past few months.

An Arlington Park stadium would put the Bears in a position to host an event such as the Super Bowl. They won’t be in the mix as long as they’re at Soldier Field.

There is also a convenient Arlington Heights train stop that’s steps away from the park. That could soften the blow of moving out of downtown Chicago.

The Bears have a lease agreement with Soldier Field until 2033. However, such leases are easily broken when enough money and willpower are in play.

Mayor Hayes has also said that he’d welcome the Bears to Arlington Heights with open arms. Obviously, an NFL franchise would be an economic boon for any city.

Photo by M. Spencer Green / AP
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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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