By Fiona Simmons
Hawthorne Race Course, the oldest sporting venue in Illinois, announced Thursday it has been approved by the state gaming regulator to develop a casino. The Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) voted unanimously for the suitability of the ownership and key personnel of Hawthorne in regards to an eventual casino licensure, a preliminary approval with the official licensing set to come at a later stage.
Casino Development Given the Green Light
The finding of preliminary suitability by the IGB will allow the longest running legal gambling business in the state to secure financing for its $400 million redevelopment plan. Hawthorne expects the major construction work on the casino that would feature slot machines, table games and a new racing operation with upgraded wagering facilities, to begin in September this year, and the casino to open doors in 2021.
Hawthorne’s CEO of Gaming, Kevin Kline, outlined that the race course operator would surpass general expectations regarding its upcoming casino and would substantially raise the bar on casino experience in the Chicago area.
“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. We’re going to break the mold on what a regional integrated casino, racing, and entertainment destination can be.”
Kevin Kline, CEO, Gaming, Hawthorne Race Course
The redevelopment plans include the addition of a state-of-the-art sports book, which will be developed in partnership with Australian-based sports betting operator PointsBet. Mid-July, the sports book provider received a temporary permit to roll out retail and online sports betting in the state, pending on Hawthorne receiving its master license from the IGB.
Besides the sports book, the casino will feature dining amenities showcasing well-known Chicago culinary experiences, a multi-level parking garage, as well as a new racing operation with upgraded wagering facilities, as the 4th generation family-run business intends on creating the most dynamic entertainment for casino customers.
“It’s really hard to put into context what this means for the very hardworking people of the Illinois racing industry. 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.”
Tim Carey, President and CEO, Hawthorne Race Course
The preliminary approval granted by the IGB comes on the back of several gambling expansion policies passed by Illinois Senate and House in June 2019. The bill legalized sports wagering, sanctioned six new casinos, including one in Chicago, increased the number of video gambling machines and the maximum bet, but most importantly, transformed the state’s horse racing tracks into “racinos”, to allow casino operations in the existing three race tracks and authorize the opening of another two.