Balmoral, Maywood could go up for sale in delayed Blago ripple effect

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Two historic Chicago-area horse-racing endeavors could be going up for sale in a delayed ripple effect of the scandal that brought down former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Balmoral Racing Club and Maywood Park Trotting Association would have until the end of June to find a broker to market and sell their assets and businesses in Crete and Melrose Park, respectively, under a proposed agreement with rival casinos filed last week to help resolve Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases the pair filed Dec. 24.

The horse-racing businesses sought bankruptcy protection to avoid an $82 million verdict won by the casinos in a federal lawsuit earlier that month. The lawsuit alleged one of the racing businesses’ executives, John Johnston, agreed to bribe Blagojevich into signing legislation that ultimately hurt the casinos to the tune of $65.3 million.

A judge must still approve the proposed agreement filed by the casinos in the bankruptcy case. Attorneys for Balmoral and Maywood have asked the judge for permission to file a response under seal, and they could not be reached for comment Monday. Lawyers are expected to return to court Tuesday morning.

Balmoral owns and runs its races at Balmoral Park. The original facilities built there in 1925 were known as “Lincoln Fields,” and it has been a site exclusively for harness racing since 1991. Maywood leases Maywood Park at the original home of the Cook County Fairgrounds, records show. It has conducted standardbred harness races for 68 consecutive seasons — the longest in state history.

Together, an official said in December, they employed 241 workers, and he predicted their estimated combined annual 2014 revenues would be $23.3 million. Last year they claimed to have run a collective 2,195 races involving 2,000 horses and “thousands of horsemen.”

The Empress Casino Joliet, Des Plaines Development Limited Partnership, Hollywood Casino-Aurora and the Elgin Riverboat Resort originally filed their lawsuit regarding Blagojevich in 2009.

The legislation at issue in their complaint first passed in 2006. It aimed to help Illinois’ struggling horse-racing industry by forcing the casinos to set aside 3 percent of revenue for horse racing. When a bill renewing the measure was passed in 2008, Blagojevich delayed signing it into law while his longtime associate, Alonzo Monk, tried to shake down Johnston for a $100,000 campaign contribution, according to the lawsuit.

Monk pleaded guilty to soliciting a bribe from Johnston. He was recorded telling the governor: “Look, I want to go to [Johnston] without crossing the line and say, give us the [expletive] money . . . give us the money and one has nothing to do with the other.” Monk then met with Johnston to deliver a message, he later said, that “once [Johnston] made the contribution, the act would be signed.”

But Johnston never made the contribution. And Blagojevich signed the act a week after his arrest in December 2008.

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