The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has expressed profound disappointment, after Churchill Down Incorporated announced it will not pursue a slot machine and table game licence at its Arlington International Racecourse.

CDI states that Arlington will continue to conduct horse racing in 2020 and 2021, as well as applying for a sports betting licence “while longer-term alternatives are explored”.

Furthermore, the firm also stresses that it will work alongside legislative and community stakeholders, as well as Arlington’s customers, employees and horsemen to find a solution that takes into account the many constituents across the State of Illinois who depend on horse racing for their livelihoods.

“Notwithstanding our steadfast commitment to the Illinois Thoroughbred racing industry and despite the good faith intentions of everyone involved in the passage of the Illinois Gaming Act, the economic terms under which Arlington would be granted a casino gaming license do not provide an acceptable financial return and we cannot responsibly proceed,” commented Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI.

Responding to the shock announcement, the ITHA expressed disbelief at the decision: “We are stunned and profoundly disappointed by Churchill Downs’ decision not to pursue supplemental gaming at Arlington Park, in order to do its part to grow jobs and economic opportunity for thousands of Illinois men and women both at the track and throughout the state’s agribusiness community,” the group stressed.

Before adding on lobbying efforts undertaken and fears for the future: “For more than a decade, Arlington has lobbied Illinois governors and legislators for permission to offer casino-style games as a means to boost revenue at the track and generate funds to significantly improve the quality of horsemen’s purses. 

“Indeed, Arlington in recent years elevated its lobbying push by insisting that the track be granted the authority to offer table games – in addition to slots – to ensure its racino would be economically feasible.

“Yet now that it is finally poised to operate both slots and table games, as a direct result of the gaming law recently approved, Arlington’s parent Churchill Downs has, astoundingly, declined to apply for the licence necessary to operate a racino. 

“The company evidently plans to instead abandon its commitment to racing in Illinois and focus solely on its stake in the Rivers Casino and potentially other Illinois casinos not yet developed. 

“Churchill has snubbed not only the working men and women of thoroughbred horse racing whose collective livelihood depends on live racing, but also all of the elected officials it has so intensely lobbied over the last decade.” 

Earlier this year Governor JB Pritzker rubber stamped a $45bn ‘Rebuild Illinois’ action plan, which included provisions for a significant gaming expansion, such as the introduction of six new casinos.

CDI’s remaining Illinois commitments come via the state’s top grossing establishment in Rivers Casino Des Plaines, which has applied to add up to 800 new gaming positions amid impending expansion, and a new $150m Rivers-branded entity in the city of Waukegan.