Browse articles by topic

Chicago’s Hawthorne racetrack takes step towards racino launch


Chicago’s Hawthorne Race Course has taken a step towards securing approval to develop a casino on its site, while also securing a master sports wagering license. 

The racetrack, founded in 1891, is the longest-running legal gambling business in Illinois, and yesterday saw its ownership and key personnel granted preliminary suitability to secure a casino license by the Illinois Gaming Board.

“It’s really hard to put into context what this means for the very hardworking people of the Illinois racing industry,” said Tim Carey, president and chief executive of Hawthorne Race Course.  

“It means horsemen will be able to keep their businesses and families in Illinois.  It means showcasing this historic sport to a new generation of fans.  It means creating a truly unique, first-of-its-kind entertainment experience that won’t exist anywhere else in Illinois.”

The track plans to expand its offering beyond horse racing by adding slots and table games, as well as a sportsbook, to be developed in partnership with Australian betting operator PointsBet. 

The venue will also feature dining amenities, with construction to be used to upgrade its racing operation, and revamp current betting facilities. 

“I think a lot of people may have expected us to simply put some slot machines and tables into our existing facility, but we’re going to substantially raise the bar on the Chicagoland casino experience,” Kevin Kline, Hawthorne’s chief executive of gaming, said. 

“As an independent operator, Hawthorne is like a 130 year old start-up business, and we are going to lead with innovation, excitement and a culture that celebrates our customers and empowers our team members every day,” he continued. “We’re going to break the mold on what a regional integrated casino, racing, and entertainment destination can be.”  

While the opening of the venue will be contingent on securing all necessary approvals, including a full casino license, Hawthorne plans to begin construction and renovations in September this year, with a view to opening the venue in late 2021.

Revenue from casino gaming will be used to support horse racing, with 18% of money generated to go into horse racing purses, helping support Hawthorne’s core business. 

Its expansion into new verticals was facilitated by Senate Bill 690, the gaming expansion bill ratified by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker in July 2019. As well as allowing racetracks to launch casino gaming, it also legalized sports betting, for which Hawthorne was yesterday awarded a Master License.

The venue has partnered Australia’s PointsBet, which was awarded a temporary operating permit earlier this month, for its move into legal betting. 

PointsBet now plans to launch sports betting in the state by the end of August this year. As well as offering a mobile product and betting at the track, it will also operate there off-track betting shops (OTBs) in the greater Chicago area.

Governor Pritzker this week allowed a temporary suspension of the in-person registration requirement to lapse, meaning players will need to travel to venues to sign up for a mobile betting account. However, PointsBet noted that Hawthorne’s location in the Chicago metropolitan area meant it was ideally placed, with the Chicago metropolitan area hosting 75% of Illinois’ population.

Earlier his week PointsBet reported a 190.9% year-on-year increase in revenue for its 2019-20 fiscal year. Revenue for the 12 months to 30 June jumped to AUD$82.1m, thanks to a strong performance by its core Australian business, with its US operation reporting revenue of AUD$7.0m. 

The operator plans to follow its Illinois roll-out with launches in Colorado and Michigan.