Chicago illinois

“Trying to catch up”: After loss of Arlington, big bets are placed on future of Illinois horse racing


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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois – For decades, Arlington International Racecourse has been the crown jewel of auto racing in Illinois. But its owner Churchill Downs Inc. did not ask for future race dates and announced last month that it had reached a deal to sell the 326-acre property to the Chicago Bears.

If approved, it will leave the Chicago area with one trail remaining: Hawthorne Racecourse in Stickney. And as this track and others face increasing competition from casinos and other forms of gambling, WGN Investigates has found that big bets are being placed on the future of horse racing, even in the face of long odds.

“So we’ve been left behind, which is why we’re trying to catch up,” said Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association.

For Hawthorne, that means a $ 400 million redevelopment that, when completed, will include an on-site casino.

Adding a casino has helped tracks in other states survive – and even thrive.

But for years, Illinois lawmakers have prevented that from happening here.

Under the legislation, passed in 2019, Hawthorne can now build a casino and a sportsbook on his property is already open. The plan is for the track to use the money from these commodities to offer larger purses, which in turn will attract more breeders and punters.

Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but its owners remain hopeful.

“It’s a sign of the times,” said Jim Miller of Hawthorne. “You have to come back and level the playing field. And that’s what we’re looking to do.

Meanwhile, the new owners of Balmoral Park have said they want to bring back the races.

The track near the southern outskirts of Crete has remained nearly empty since it closed in late 2015. But there are now plans to bring back the races, as well as add a casino, although the new owners would have to overcome several bureaucratic hurdles before they can. to be able to obtain what is necessary. licenses.

Marko Dobrasinovic’s family acquired Balmoral at the end of 2015.

“We want a place where people can come and get away and have a good time,” he said.

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