Legislators Race To Save Balmoral, Maywood ... But Clock's Ticking

Dec 14, 2015

Credit flickr/DavidWilson

Campaign contributions to former Governor Rod Blagojevich may have sealed the fate for a pair of historic Illinois racetracks. But not if some state legislators have their way.

South suburban legislators are trying to save a pair of bankrupt horse tracks.

Illinois' racing board voted to hold no races at Balmoral or at Maywood next year, essentially depriving them of any means of making money and forcing their closure.

Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Crete, says Illinois has dis-invested from her area in recent years.

"The loss of Balmoral is one more thing that our region just cannot sustain," she said. Not only the economic impacts of the Balmoral racetrack in an off itself, but all of the other ancillary fields that are attached to it. It's the people who raise the horses, and the ones who raise the hay, and the veterinarians."

Hutchinson supports legislation that could give the tracks racing dates and restructure how tracks make money from off-track betting.

"You're talking about a 89-year-old facility, almost 200 and some acres of land, when they stripped these dates, that's going to be vacant," said Democratic Rep. Thaddeus Jones of Dolton, the sponsor of legislation. Maywood and Balmoral's management says that would help to keep the tracks operating in the future, as they seek new owners. An auction is underway. But they admit, with the auction ongoing, and the legislature not back until mid-January the timing is "murky."

The racing board says the change would cause big tax troubles, and defends its decision not to award dates -- by splitting dates at Arlington and Hawthorne, the regulators say it'll increase the purse size and help Illinois' horse racing industry overall.

Maywood Park is closed for the season; races will continue at Balmoral until nearly the end of December.