Evans: Illinois Slots a 'Two-Edged' Sword

Casino gambling has been approved by both houses of the Illinois legislature.

Alternative gaming in Illinois—which looms as a real possibility after years of intensive efforts in many quarters—would be good for Arlington Park but could potentially have a negative impact on Kentucky, according to the chairman of Churchill Downs Inc.

A bill that provides for an expansion of casino gambling in the state, including racetrack slot machines, has passed both houses of the Illinois legislature and awaits a signature or veto by Gov. Pat Quinn.

“It’s huge in terms of making Arlington more competitive purse structure -wise,” Bob Evans said after presiding over his first meeting as CDI board chairman after serving as company president and chief executive officer. “It’s a two-edged sword in the sense that it would be another racetrack outside of Kentucky that's competing with Kentucky's racetracks with slot-subsidized purses.”

In recent years the Kentucky racing circuit has been negatively impacted by a migration of horses and stables to nearby states where purses have been enhanced due to alternative gaming. Efforts to achieve legalized video lottery terminals at tracks have consistently failed in Kentucky.

Except for the construction costs associated with having slots at Arlington, Evans said there would likely be no major move on the part of CDI to allocate more resources to its Illinois racing operations than to the flagship track in Louisville.

“Obviously, more capital (would go) to Arlington because we would building a casino," Evans said. "I would to love to make that investment (at Churchill Downs) and keep those jobs here."

That could change if the enhanced purse structure at Arlington attracted more Kentucky horsemen, he said.

“If we can’t fill up the race card (at Churchill Downs), then there would be no reason to have racing that day,” Evans said.

Evans said the legislation in Illinois would also allow slots at Quad City Downs, a former harness racing track that is owned by Arlington and used an off-track betting facility. In order for alternative gaming to take place at Quad City, CDI would have to resume live racing at the track, Evans said.

He declined to estimate how much that would cost.

“We are not going to spend a lot of time doing detailed planning around that, because otherwise it would just be a guessing game,” Evans said.

Arlington chairman Richard Duchossois said VLTs or a casino at Arlington would place the track “in the upper echelon” of purse structures in North American racing. With legislators and the governor continuing to negotiate privately June 16 over the final specifics of the bill, any changes that would remove racetrack slots from the equation would have a serious impact on some tracks, Duchossois said.

“All of the tracks would be affected, and some would not be able to make it,” said Duchossois, the largest CDI shareholder along with his son, Craig. Duchossois said he was not including Arlington in the list of endangered tracks if there were no racetrack VLTs.

Evans said there was no indication that the talks between Quinn and the legsilators involved the possibility of removing racetrack slots from the bill.

When asked if a casino in downtown Chicago would limit Arlington's potential from casino gaming, Duchossois said: “You live with what you have. You do the best you can with what you have.”