Two Chicago-area harness tracks with the same ownership voluntarily filed for bankruptcy protection Dec. 24 "to ensure continued operations," officials said.
Balmoral Park and Maywood Park, the last two major pari-mutuel harness tracks in Illinois, took the action in the wake of litigation. A jury Dec. 11 awarded nearly $80 million to several Illinois casinos in a long-running court battle with Balmoral, Maywood, and owner John Johnston.
The civil suit stemmed from charges that imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich shook down Johnston for a large campaign contribution while considering whether to sign a bill that taxed some casinos and in turn used the revenue to fund racetrack purses and operations.
The 2008 legislation, which authorized the 3% tax on gross revenue at the casinos, was upheld by the state Supreme Court a year later. The money was designed to offset the impact the expanding casino industry was having on pari-mutuel business at the state's five racetracks; the tax has since expired.
Officials with Balmoral and Maywood, which combined make up a year-round circuit, said the tracks will appeal the judgment.
"Balmoral and Maywood racetracks intend to continue normal operations and race schedules throughout the process," the tracks said in a Dec. 24 statement. "Both tracks assure customers, horsemen, and suppliers that they will continue to offer the superior facilities and experience they have provided for decades. The filings are necessary to preserve the value of the businesses and to ensure continued operations.
"Balmoral and Maywood racetracks remain critical to the Illinois horse racing industry. They provide jobs, opportunities, and enjoyment to thousands of people. The tracks are Chicagoland institutions and help promote tourism and agriculture in Illinois."
Officials said the bankruptcy filing, planned for Dec. 30, will "give the tracks sufficient breathing room" as they work through the legal process.
Balmoral and Maywood, as well as their network of off-track betting facilities, are major outlets for Thoroughbred simulcasts in the Chicago area. The Illinois harness racing product has been hit hard by competition from tracks in other states that rely on alternative gaming for purse and operations revenue.
The other Chicago-area track to have most recently conducted harness racing is Hawthorne Race Course, which races Thoroughbreds in the winter, early spring, and fall. Its attempts to offer subsequent summer harness meets have been rejected by state regulators.