Churchill's Arlington Purchase Approved

The Illinois Racing Board Tuesday gave unanimous approval to plans for a merger that will make Churchill Downs Inc. the sole owner of Arlington International Racecourse.

The deal is expected to be finalized after Churchill shareholders meet Sept. 8. In approving the deal, the IRB acknowledged the nature of the horse racing industry has changed with the growth of simulcasting. The approval came after Arlington owner Dick Duchossois lamented the Illinois racing industry’s loss of prestige and his hope to win back its position behind only New York and California.

“When Arlington was purchased in 1983, it was purchased with the intent to keep quality racing in Illinois,” Duchossois said in an opening statement. “Today our objective is the same--to make Illinois a major Thoroughbred racing center.”

Arlington opened May 14 for the 2000 season after being shuttered for two years, awaiting changes finally adopted by the Illinois Legislature last year that gave Illinois tracks a cut of riverboat gambling revenue to boost purses.

Duchossois noted the $1 billion Illinois racing industry has “had its ups and downs--and “almost went out of business.” He said he came to the conclusion a number of things had to be done to keep racing alive in the state but that Arlington could not do them alone.

“We need to develop a program that will reach around the world,” he said, noting that 80 percent of horse wagering is now done off-track.

Churchill President and CEO Thomas Meeker noted the industry is in the process of consolidating.

“Ten years ago we didn’t have a market beyond 25 miles (of a track),” he said. “Today it’s remarkably different. You’re offering a gaming product (now). Some people don’t like to hear that. As a result, offering full cards (of simulcasting) has become more important.”

That means attracting more horses, quality horses. To do that, purses have to be increased--something Churchill is in a position to promote. Meeker noted that in a few short years, Churchill has increased its purses more than fourfold.

Commissioner John Simon praised Duchossois for seizing the opportunity and commissioner Leon Shlofrock acknowledged, “This is the trend in the United States.”

The deal calls for Duchossois to become a director of Churchill Downs Inc., which will expand its board from 12 to 15 members. Scott Mordell remains as president and CEO of Arlington.

Churchill owns Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Hollywood Park in Los Angeles, Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., Calder Race Course outside Miami, and percentages in Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., and Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind.

Arlington originally opened in 1927 and was rebuilt after a 1985 fire. The racetrack operates pari-mutuel facilities in Chicago, Arlington Heights, Rockford, Waukegan, and East Moline, Ill.