Fairmount Park was awarded a Master Sports Wagering License and was given “preliminary suitable” status to add casino games on Thursday at an Illinois Gaming Board special meeting. The track has plans plans to expand by adding a racino.
Located near the Illinois-Missouri border and close to the St. Louis metropolitan area, Fairmount Park joins Hawthorne Race Course as an organizational licensee permitted to conduct sports betting and preliminary suitable status to expand and add casino games. The horse racing tracks were permitted to apply for casino and sports betting licenses as part of the gaming expansion bill Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law in June 2019.
It is the ninth Master Sports Wagering license issued by the Illinois Gaming Board, all of which have been awarded since June. Fairmount Park applied for the license doing business as FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing, which will make FanDuel the first sportsbook in Illinois to operate at multiple retail venues.
FanDuel was in talks with Fairmount Park as far back as February to enter Illinois as a workaround to the 18-month waiting period from the issuance of the first retail sports betting license to when the IGB can accept an online-only application. It launched mobile betting Aug. 28 via Par-A-Dice Casino, and commenced retail wagering Sept. 10.
Remote registration for mobile sports betting remains available in Illinois through at least Nov. 14 following Pritzker’s latest renewal of Executive Order 2020-41 on Oct. 16.
Helton touts diversity in final push for Fairmount
e would like to send a big Thank You, to Melissa Helton, President and General Manager of Fairmount Park Race Track. With her guidance and determination we are extremely excited to announce that we have been granted approval by the Illinois Gaming Board, to take the next steps pic.twitter.com/GLN8N7tl1q
— Fairmount Park (@FairmountParkIL) October 29, 2020
Melissa Helton, who is president and general manager of Fairmount Park, highlighted the diversity of her staff in remarks to the board for consideration of their findings, noting 25% of the 400-strong staff during peak racing season are minorities and 48% are females.
She readily conceded the waning interest in horse racing in Illinois contributed to Fairmount Park’s decision to apply for a racino license, and said it would provide an opportunity for growth and to maintain the livelihood for those in the industry.
“I am telling you this to communicate how significant this opportunity is for the company and all its people impacted,” she said. “The gaming bill giving us the right to apply to become a racino along with the sports wagering opportunity has been the biggest event to move Illinois horse racing back to what it once was and forward to greater heights.”
Helton also pointed out Fairmount Park has moved its internal controls to a daily auditing process, which would extend across multiple departments. The board unanimously approved the finding of Fairmount Park being “preliminary suitable” and was unanimous in issuing the Master Sports Wagering License.
Pandemic forces delay in new casino approval timeline
— Danielle Tumilowicz (@dtumilowicz) October 29, 2020
Eight groups vying for casino licenses in four different locations — Waukegan, Cook County, Williamson County, and Rockford — submitted amendments of supplemental disclosure to their applications filed one year ago Wednesday as part of the gaming expansion bill. Per state law, the IGB was required to issue new licenses within one year of receiving the applications or provide a written explanation for the delay, and Administrator Marcus Fruchter cited COVID-19 among other reasons for extending the board’s timeline at least six months in some cases.
“To say that much has changed since that time would be an understatement,” he said in referencing the year that has passed since the applications were submitted. “The Illinois gaming landscape changed dramatically with passage of the 2019 gaming expansion law. It was the largest expansion of gaming in Illinois and one of the largest single expansions of gaming in the U.S.”
Since the passage of the bill, the IGB has overseen the creation of the sports betting market — both retail and online — in Illinois, and a sizable increase in the number of video game terminals (VGTs) for establishments that included the creation of a new class for truck stops.
Specific to COVID-19, the board was responsible for developing protocols and guidelines for casinos across the state to follow while operating at varying limited capacities. The pandemic also delayed interviews with key people that is part of the due diligence that comes with vetting casino applicants.
“Like all government agencies and private businesses, the board’s work has been impacted by COVID-19,” Fruchter said. “This is not an excuse or a crutch. It is simply a recognition of the realities that work and life are different in a global pandemic.
“I know that this may be unsatisfying to some, but we have a process, and we are remaining faithful to it.”
Fruchter estimated that “barring any unforseen further disruptions or developments” that “preliminary suitable” determination for single-applicant licenses in Rockford and Williamson County should take place within six months. For Waukegan and the south suburbs of Cook County, which have multiple applicants as part of an open and selective competitive bidding process specific to local regulations, that timeline of preliminary suitable determination was extended to within six months of “retaining an investment banker, pursuant to an RFP process under the Illinois procurement code.”
Walker’s Bluff Casino Resort is applying for the Williamson County license, and 815 Entertainment, doing business as Hard Rock Casino, is the lone applicant in Rockford. Churchill Downs and Rush Street Gaming have combined forces as one of the three applicants for a license in Waukegan, and there are four applicants for the South Suburban license in Cook County.
“Waukegan has waited thirty years for our long-sought entertainment center and casino. While today’s news was certainly unwelcomed, we look forward to the gaming board efficiently reviewing these proposals to prevent any further delays,” Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham said in a statement emailed to Sports Handle. “This project will provide major economic development to Waukegan, creating massive infrastructure investment, quality jobs both in the operation of the site and in the union construction of the project, and will bring our community funds to offset the impact of COVID-19 and our long-term pension obligations. We anxiously await additional updates of progress by the state.”
“While we are a little disappointed to learn about the possible six-month delay, we completely understand how the pandemic has created major challenges for the Illinois Gaming Board in this process and appreciate the efforts of the board and staff during these difficult times,” said Walker’s Bluff Founding Partner Cynde Bunch in a statement. “We will do our part to be prompt and responsive to any requests we receive from the IGB during this final phase before our license determination. ”
There are two sites for new casinos that had no movement. The city of Danville recently reached an agreement with casino operator Wilmorite after the IGB allowed Haven Gaming to withdraw its application in late July. There are no applicants for the downtown Chicago license, though the city took its first steps in the process by putting out a Request for Information in late August.