It is more a case of three’s company than three’s a crowd in Illinois as the state’s gaming board confirmed Thursday that Arlington International has submitted an application for a sports betting license.
Arlington is the last of the three horse racing tracks in the Land of Lincoln to apply, though it has opted only for a sports betting license.
Arlington’s owner, Churchill Downs Incorporated, announced last August it would not seek a racino license due to the state’s high tax rates. That has contributed to protracted contract negotiations between Arlington and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association regarding racing this season, and there are currently no plans for live racing beyond 2021.
Hawthorne Race Course and Fairmount Park previously submitted applications for sports betting licenses as part of their expansion plans to be racinos, which was allowed as part of the gaming bill signed into law last June by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. Those tracks, along with Indiana Grand and Harrah’s Hoosier Park in Indiana, are all currently closed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, Harrah’s Hoosier Park furloughed nearly 1,000 workers due to Indiana’s stay-at-home orders.
According to the official Indiana state government website, Indiana Grand and Harrah’s Hoosier Park could begin a multi-stage reopening process as early as Monday with a target date of June 14 for spectator-free pari-mutuel racing.
Who will operate the Arlington sportsbook?
Churchill Downs also owns a 60% stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, which is located 12 miles from Arlington International. That potential consumer overlap due to proximity raises questions about who will operate the sportsbook should Arlington be approved for a license.
BetRivers operates the Rivers Casino sportsbook, which makes it possible Churchill Downs would use the BetAmerica brand to operate its sportsbook at Arlington. BetAmerica is already available as an app — Indiana is one of three states where it operates online.
That mobile/online presence could prove vital to Arlington Park’s survival given its uncertain racing future. Indiana allows instant registration for mobile and online sports betting, which proved beneficial for Indiana Grand and Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Each racetrack generated a cumulative handle of more than $11 million in the first quarter of the year and generated just under $175,000 in tax revenues for the state.