Maywood, Balmoral's Fate In Hands Of Illinois Racing Board

Sep 29, 2015

Credit Paul Kehrer via Flickr

The owners of Illinois' horse race tracks say the industry is struggling to survive, but key players diverge on how to salvage the industry. Decisions by a state board Tuesday afternoon could determine tracks' fate. The Illinois Racing Board is set to decide during a meeting in Chicago which Illinois tracks can hold horse meets, and when --- a decision that's key to the tracks' profitability.

"We look at this meeting today as probably one of the most important ones that we have ever been to," said Dick Duchoissois, chairman and owner of the Arlington Park track.

A state board gets to decide which track can hold races -- and therefore make money - on any given day. Arlington and another big track, Hawthorne, have long competed for racing dates. But this year, they're asking the state to accept a one-year deal that splits the races.

Duchoissois says it'll help save horse racing in Illinois by allowing Arlington and Hawthorne to be more competitive. But that'd be done by cutting out the bankrupt Balmoral and Maywood tracks; neither would be able to hold any races next year. Advocates of the plan say it'll help the industry overall if the imited pot of money horse racing money is spread less thin.

The Johnston family, which owns and operates Maywood and Balmoral say if they're awarded zero racing dates for 2016, they may be forced to shut down forever, which would hurt the industry in the long-run. They also say it would impede efforts to sell the tracks to new ownership.

Balmoral and Maywood are appealing an $80 million judgment related to their role in a Rod-Blagojevich extortion scheme.

The entire industry does agree on one thing: owners and horesmen alike say they're doomed unless Illinois passes a law allowing slot machines at race tracks.

The Fairmont track near St-Louis isn't in competition for dates with tracks in the Chicago region.