Developers of a new Illinois casino in Richton Park are calling on the Illinois General Assembly to eliminate Hawthorne Race Course’s veto power to halt the proposed racino.
Greenway Entertainment Group is hoping to build a new harness horse racing track and casino — jointly called a racino — in Richton Park, one of the south suburbs of Chicago. Richton Park is 25 miles due south of Hawthorne, which is located in Stickney.
Under the gambling expansion bill passed in 2019, only one of seven south suburban townships can operate a racino. Hawthorne can block a racino from being built elsewhere in that region.
Drew Daniels is the head of the Greenway Entertainment Group of investors. He developed real estate at Lake Bluff. Greenway wants to see the Illinois General Assembly act saying that Hawthorne’s veto power is limiting revenue streams for the south suburbs. The proposed bill would set a veto deadline of June 29, 2023, four years after the creation of the law that authorized racinos.
“We urge the Illinois Gaming Board and Illinois General Assembly to consider the loss of revenue and endless delays that the current Act permits and promote an alternative that allows this critical and meaningful revenue to commence,” said a letter sent by Daniels to the Gaming Board according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.
The plan for a new Illinois horse racing venue
Last Thursday, at an Illinois Senate executive committee meeting, Greenway Group unveiled its plan to put a racino in Richton Park.
One of the investors is Dan Arnold, who was previously president of Arlington International Race Course and is now CEO of Endeavor Hotel Group.
Richton Park is part of Rich Township and has a population of nearly 13,000 (Rich Township has 76,000 approximately). It is near Governors State College. Village Manager Reagan Stockstell said the town is open to the idea of a racino.
“The village of Richton Park is supportive of a mixed-use racino development and welcomes the opportunity in the area west of Interstate 57 along the Sauk Trail corridor,” Stockstell said in a statement. “As it relates to (the bill to eliminate Hawthorne’s veto), the racino presents a meaningful economic development opportunity in the south suburbs that should be allowed to proceed.”
Horse racing in Illinois
Illinois horse racing tracks at Arlington (closed in 2021), Maywood (2015) and Balmoral (2015) are now all closed. The Arlington site has been purchased by the Chicago Bears with the possibility of building a new stadium for the NFL team there.
Hawthorne Race Course opened in 1891, making it the oldest pari-mutuel horse racing track in the state.
The Illinois Gaming Board approved Hawthorne’s plans to convert the facility into a racino in 2020. There have been delays to the project that would see a casino built in Hawthorne’s grandstand. Hawthorne president Tim Carey initially said rising costs of materials and COVID-19 were a factor. Now the track has had delays in securing funding.
“We are almost four years into this and they haven’t done anything,” said Arnold of Hawthorne’s development plans.
Hawthorne also came under fire for its plan to build a racino in Tinley Park with investor Rick Heidner. A Tribune investigation exposed alleged ties between Heidner and organized crime, which led to the project being scrapped.
Meanwhile, horse racing is suffering in Illinois. Due to the closure of Arlington, thoroughbreds and standardbreds (harness horses) now share Hawthorne. It is a less-than-ideal situation. Horsepeople are having trouble paying their bills due to shorter racing seasons and the current purse level. Many have already left Illinois to race horses in other states. A Hawthorne racino would bring a much-needed purse injection.
What happens next?
Bottom line, this is far from a slam dunk.
Specifically, there are mayors who believe the Richton Park racino is a bad idea. Ongoing plans call for a stand-alone casino in East Hazel Crest set to open in 2024. The Wind Creek Casino Southland will be 70,000 square feet. It will feature a 252-room hotel and 1,350 slot machines, according to the Wind Creek website.
Further, East Hazel Crest is eight miles away from Richton Park.
But a full-fledged casino is one thing. The idea of a Richton Park racino could help revive the horse racing industry in Illinois. This according to former Governor Jim Edgar.
“The casino bill could have revived Illinois racing, but nothing happened,” Edgar said. “We’re letting a great opportunity slip through our fingers.”