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Churchill Downs says it will expand Rivers Casino and bid for new location

The company that owns the lucrative Des Plaines location says it will open a sports book, too.

Rivers Casino in Des Plaines pictured in 2011.
Rivers Casino in Des Plaines pictured in 2011.
Sun-Times files

The owners of Illinois’ most lucrative casino plan are going all in on bolstering their Des Plaines location under the state’s massive gambling expansion — and they say they’ll bid for one of the six new casino licenses soon to be dangled before potential operators.

Churchill Downs Inc., which acquired a controlling share of Rivers Casino in March, will put down $24 million in licensing fees next year for the additional 800 gambling positions it’s afforded under the gaming bill signed into law last month by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, CEO Bill Carstanjen said Thursday during a quarterly investors conference call. The new law raises the maximum number of casino gaming positions from 1,200 to 2,000.

The Louisville-based company, which controls numerous gaming sites nationwide, including the historic home of the Kentucky Derby, says it will also pay for one of the state’s sports wagering licenses to build a sports book in the existing building at Rivers, 3000 S. River Road in Des Plaines.

Carstanjen said the company could add 200 to 250 gaming positions as soon as the Illinois Gaming Board approves their licenses, but construction is being planned to extend the parking garage and gaming floor for the full expansion.

Churchill Downs also owns Arlington International Racecourse, which under the new law will be able to host as many as 1,200 gaming positions for slots and table games in addition to horse racing. Carstanjen said the company would apply for those additional positions but was light on specifics.

“Timing and full scope of the plan are still being sorted out,” he said.

On top of that, Carstanjen said Churchill Downs will be a player in the rush for one of the state’s six new casino licenses authorized under the new law, but he didn’t say whether the company would go for the 4,000-position Chicago mega-casino or one of the other five sites in the south suburbs, Rockford, Danville, Waukegan or Williamson County.

Nor did he say whether the company would apply on its own or with a partner company like Midwest Gaming, the company owned by Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, who founded Rivers and remains as casino chairman.

“Illinois is really a puzzle because for anybody involved in the jurisdiction trying to figure out their plans, there are things you don’t know, like what your competitors are going to do, how many positions they might apply for and precisely where some of these new casinos are going to go, particularly in the Chicagoland market,” Carstanjen said.

Rivers Casino has generated by far the most revenue of any Illinois gambling den since opening in 2011. It racked up nearly $442 million in adjusted gross receipts in 2018, and had raked in more than $219 million by the end of June, according to Gaming Board records.