Hawthorne Offers Racino Update; Horse Racing Industry Seeks Sports Betting Tweaks

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Hawthorne Race Course President and CEO Tim Carey offered an update on the progress of the racino being built at his track in the south suburbs of Chicago, while the horse racing industry sought to find ways for more funding from sports wagering as the Executive Committee of the Illinois General Assembly covered gaming topics.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Carey noted the timetable has been slower than expected due to multiple factors, one of which included securing financing for the $430 million expansion. He did not state if that has contributed to any delays to the original timeline of opening the racino in December but stressed there has been progress on the property grounds and that they are close to a deal.

Hawthorne had the ability to expand into a racino with the passing of a 2019 capital bill that expanded gaming throughout Illinois and legalized sports wagering. The track, which was deemed “preliminary suitable” for the racino last July by the Illinois Gaming Board, opened its retail sportsbook last September.

“We are very, very close, we went out and leveraged ourselves and gutted the location,” Carey said, pointing out they have done demolition work on the property. “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.

“But we couldn’t be more excited, we couldn’t be more jacked up to be involved in this business and generate what we believe will be anywhere from $40 to $60 million a year in new purse revenue for both thoroughbred and harness. It’s just taken us more time.”

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Hawthorne has a partnership with Australian-based PointsBet for sports betting and the eventual racino. In addition to the retail sportsbook at the track, there are off-track betting locations with sports betting available at Crestwood and Prospect Heights. A third OTB location with a retail sportsbook will eventually open in Oakbrook Terrace.

ITHA backing Rita’s bill to help backstretch workers

Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen Association Executive Director David McCaffrey presented the state of the horse racing industry with some good points and areas where it needs help. On the positive side, McCaffrey noted an uptick in foals bred “for the first time in 30 years,” but also noted that momentum might not be sustained “because of the murkiness” surrounding the lack of substantial process on the racinos and Churchill Downs opting not to pursue either a sports betting or racino license at Arlington Park.

McCaffrey pointed out that the gaming expansion bill that allowed sports wagering licenses for the racetracks did not have any way of directly impacting the purses for horse racing. He said the ITHA is in support of HB 3214, a bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Rita that would amend the Sports Wagering Act in which an organizational licensee with a signed contract with the horsemen’s association would contribute “a purse share of not less than 6% of adjusted gross sports wagering receipts.”

McCaffrey said that they are opposed to HB 2360 and SB 2070, with the House Bill sponsored by Rita and the Senate version sponsored by Cristina Castro that would allow a promotional credit of up to 20% on adjusted gross revenues on sports wagering taxes for licensees.

“There is no public policy reason to cut a racetrack’s sports betting taxes if they aren’t supporting racing within the revenue stream,” McCaffrey said.

The ITHA Executive Director also touched on iGaming, which was also a point of discussion across multiple panels during Wednesday’s meeting. He stressed the need for any potential revenue derived from that must filter to horse racing and that “if an internet gaming bill is passed, it can’t go down the same road as the sports betting bill,” otherwise it would become “an existential threat to us.”

Illinois bettors come out for Derby Day

Bettors in Illinois made a notable contribution to the handle for the 147th Kentucky Derby run Saturday, won by Medina Spirit. According to the Illinois Racing Board, nearly $13.6 million of the $233 million handle reported by Churchill Downs for the all-day Kentucky Derby program originated in the Land of Lincoln.

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Chris Altruda

Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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