Less than a month after being awarded 2020 racing dates by the Illinois Racing Board, a planned Standardbred track and casino in Tinley Park in the southwest Chicago suburbs has been put on hold by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who pulled the plug on a proposed sale of state-owned land that was to be used for the project.
The announcement from the governor's office that a former state mental health facility would not be sold for the planned racino prompted the Illinois Racing Board to reverse its earlier decision to award 2020 dates to Playing in the Park LLC, a partnership of Hawthorne Race Course and real estate developer Rick Heidner.
The new harness track and casino was authorized by far-reaching gaming legislation that passed the Illinois General Assembly earlier this year and was signed into law by Pritzker. The legislation, in addition to authorizing a new harness track and casino license in the Chicago area, expanded casino gambling throughout the state, including at existing racetracks Hawthorne, Arlington Park and downstate Fairmount Park. Hawthorne and Fairmount have announced plans to build casinos as quickly as possible while Churchill Downs-owned Arlington Park declined to do so, instead expressing interest in adding a sports book to Arlington.
Pritzker's decision to call off the land sale came days after the Chicago Tribune reported Heidner's business relationships with a bank that had alleged ties to organized crime figures and with a convicted bookmaker. In addition, according to published reports, Heidner's name appeared on a search warrant of the office of a state senator under investigation by federal authorities.
Heider was awarded a video gaming license in 2012 by Illinois regulators.
Illinois Thoroughbred horsemen have been hopeful that a new harness track would host year-round Standardbred racing, opening more racing dates for Thoroughbreds at Hawthorne – an important consideration if Arlington, as many horsemen fear, ends Thoroughbred racing in the next few years. Hawthorne currently hosts Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing and under the new state gaming law, any revenue from Hawthorne's planned casino would have to be split with harness horsemen.
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