IL HBPA Withholds Consent for TwinSpires to be in State

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Fairmount ParkT.D. Thornton

Edited Press Release

The organization representing owners and trainers at FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing (formerly known as Fairmount Park) is withholding consent for the TwinSpires betting platform to accept wagers from Illinois residents.

The board of the Illinois Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association cites the closure of suburban Chicago's industry icon Arlington Park by Churchill Downs Inc., TwinSpires' parent corporation, as a prime motivation for withholding consent. With CDI not owning a functioning racetrack in Illinois in 2022, TwinSpires must under state law have a contract with another duly licensed track to conduct business in the state starting Jan. 1. The only remaining Prairie State horse tracks are FanDuel and Chicagoland's Hawthorne Race Course, with CDI seeking approval through the FanDuel track.

Illinois law also gives horsemen consent rights before an advance-deposit wagering (ADW) platform can enter into a relationship with an Illinois track to conduct business in the state.

Illinois HBPA president Jim Watkins said his organization's board believes the issue is of the magnitude that it should go before the Illinois Racing Board. The IRB has scheduled a hearing Dec. 16 at 10 a.m. Central via WebEx. The racing regulators have the power to overrule the horsemen's veto if they believe the horsemen's action was unreasonable, he said.

“That's where we're at now,” Watkins said. “We just felt this was an issue the racing board should be able to weigh in on, whether TwinSpires continues to be allowed to operate in Illinois. That's a big reason we withheld our consent.”

Watkins said the horsemen are upset not just that CDI shut down Arlington Park but then would not sell to ownership wishing to maintain racing at the 94-year-old track. CDI is the majority owner of Rivers Casino Des Plaines, located 10 miles from Arlington Park. The company has an agreement to sell the Arlington Park property to pro football's Chicago Bears for a reported $197 million.

“CDI wants their cake and to eat it, too: 'We're not willing to be involved in the racing, but we want to still utilize our ADW powers in Illinois,'” Watkins said.

Watkins said the Illinois HBPA also “wants to bring light to a flawed system” under which online betting platforms operate. Watkins said that the ADWs make the lion's share of the net proceeds at the expense of horsemen's purse accounts and brick-and-mortar tracks and simulcasting facilities, even as the online technology siphons off the majority of bettors.

“This is where the system is really flawed,” he said. “It's an agreement between three parties. In Illinois, the track and the ADW provider negotiate the contract, and the third–the horsemen–is just the consenter. There are so many questions left unanswered. Obviously with the increased numbers of people using ADWs, the horsemen and the tracks get so much less of that it could spell doom for us. The framers of these ADWs intended for it to basically be a third to the provider, a third to the track and a third to the horsemen. But they take out fees up front, and those fees are unspecified in purpose and amount. What is an ADW fee? What does that mean? The racetracks don't ask the ADW to pay their security payroll and the electric bill. And the horsemen don't ask the ADW company to pay the feed bill and hay bill and straw bill.”

The Illinois HBPA signed a one-year contract with TVG to operate in Illinois, Watkins said. FanDuel, part of the corporate enterprise that operates the TVG racing channel and betting platform, is the southern Illinois track's equity partner to operate the sports book. While the company is not a partner in the racetrack, it received branding and naming rights as part of a contract that includes the long-term sponsorship of the St. Louis Derby, worth $250,000 in 2021.

Click here for previous TDN story on CDI's request for IRB approval.

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