Updated on 09/26/2012 12:53PM

Illinois Racing Board decision shifts 2013 dark-day simulcast revenue from Arlington to Hawthorne


CHICAGO – The 2013 Illinois racing calendar will mirror this year’s, but the Illinois Racing Board shifted several hundred thousand dollars worth of simulcast host commissions from Arlington to Hawthorne during its annual racing dates award meeting on Tuesday in Chicago.

Arlington has in recent years swept up nearly all the January and early February days when there’s no live racing in Chicago but bets on simulcasts are taken. But in 2013, Hawthorne will have 85 of these so-called dark-host days, 19 more than this year. Arlington’s dark-host days in 2013 total 90 compared to 107 in 2012. A January dark-host day generates about $50,000 in purse money and about $27,000 in track commissions. That constitutes about an $800,000 shift in purse money and $430,000 in track commissions from Arlington to Hawthorne in 2013.

The Board’s decision came after a long day of testimony and passed by a 6-2 margin after an initial proposal failed in a 4-4 tie. The Board is supposed to comprise 11 members, but two commissioners have not yet begun their terms, and a third seat on the body remains vacant. The original proposal would have given Arlington five more dark-host days.

The awards could have swung in a more extreme direction. Hawthorne had asked for a spring meet running through May 4, which would have included Kentucky Derby Day, while Arlington’s dates application asked that its season start April 22 (with two dark weeks before opening day). Neither request was granted, and 2013 race meets in Chicago will cover the same periods as this year.

Hawthorne, which was awarded 101 racing days, begins the Chicago season on Feb. 15, racing two days per week in February, then four days per week in March. Arlington's 89-day meet begins May 1 and will run four days a week through Sept. 30. The fall meet at Hawthorne commences Oct. 1 and runs through Dec. 31. Downstate Fairmount Park will race 69 days between March 26 and Sept. 20.

Arlington generally has received favorable treatment by the Illinois Racing Board in recent years, but the Board appeared miffed at the decision of Churchill Downs to leave the Illinois Derby off Churchill’s newly devised points system that qualifies horses for the Kentucky Derby. Both Churchill and Arlington are owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated. Kevin Flanery, Churchill’s president, was called to testify Tuesday about the exclusion of the Illinois Derby from the Derby prep system, and faced relatively stern questioning from a Board that consists entirely of recent appointees and lacks the confidence of recent bodies.

Hawthorne president Tim Carey testified to the IRB that additional money steered Hawthorne’s direction could be used to boost the purse of the Illinois Derby to $750,000 or $1 million, but Carey said after the meeting that no specific plans had been formulated.

Arlington did call as an expert witness a financial consultant who questioned Hawthorne’s ability to remain solvent. Hawthorne asserted its finances are in decent order, but its dates’ award is contingent upon presenting the IRB with written documentation that it has properly collateralized $2.5 million that remains on a $10 million line of credit.

The Chicago tracks continue fighting for every dollar in great part because legislation that would permit tracks to operate slot machines has failed to be signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn after passing both state legislative houses the last two years. Racetracks were given a reprieve by the release in August 2011 of millions of dollars of casino impact-fee funds, but that money will run out after the 2014 season.

Finally, the Board conditioned its dates order on track operators and horsemen’s groups signing seasonal contracts 30 days before the beginning of a meet. If a contract hasn’t been agreed upon by that time, the parties must notify the IRB, which will provide mediation. The order seeks to avoid a repeat of the events this past May, when opening weekend of the Arlington meet, including the Kentucky Derby and Oaks simulcasts, was compromised by a contractual dispute between Arlington and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.