Day At The Track

Balmoral, Maywood track assets to be auctioned

01:00 AM 11 Dec 2015 NZDT
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Maywood Park set to close down
Maywood Park set to close down

th no acceptable offers received to keep two Chicago-area harness racing tracks running, the operators of Balmoral Park and Maywood Park will auction off the assets of the tracks Monday.

The sale, which is not open to the general public, will take place at the offices of the Chicago law firm representing the tracks' owners, the Johnston family, in a bankruptcy case filed nearly a year ago after operators of Chicago-area casinos won a $79 million judgment against the track operators.

Along with the assets of the tracks themselves, the sale will include off-track betting parlors, including one in Crestwood, operated by the tracks' owners.

In court filings, the tracks' owners said efforts earlier this year to find buyers willing to keep Balmoral, in Crete, and Maywood, in Melrose Park, operating were not successful. Maywood closed Oct. 2, and racing at Balmoral, which has hosted horse racing since 1926, will wrap up at the end of this year.

The track owners had, this summer, sought 2016 harness racing dates from the Illinois Racing Board, which in the fall awarded dates for next year only to Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Illinois Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, whose district includes Balmoral, has proposed legislation that would give a minimum of 30 days of racing next year to each of the two tracks.

The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, which represents breeders, trainers, drivers and others in the industry, said the organization actually supported the Racing Board's decision because Balmoral and Maywood had each sought only two racing dates a week next year, far too few to support the people who make their living in harness racing.

Owners, in court filings, said that from May through July they contacted possible operators about buying and operating the tracks, but no acceptable offers were received. They had hoped that legislation that would allow slots at horse racing tracks, which never came to pass, would prompt interest among potential buyers, according to filings.

There is no "stalking horse" bid to set the pace for the auction, and no reserve price has been set, although offers are subject to approval by the track owners and a hearing confirming the results of the sale is scheduled for Tuesday in federal bankruptcy court.

At the end of October, the track operators applied for licenses to continue operating the OTBs next year, noting that the betting sites could continue to operate even though the tracks themselves no longer have live racing. The Racing Board is scheduled to take up that matter at its meeting Tuesday as well as receive an update on the tracks' Chapter 11 case.

However, the current method of distributing OTB wagering revenue rewards tracks hosting live racing, so it's unclear how future operators of the parlors, if not affiliated with another track, would benefit.

A year ago, a federal appeals court ordered the Balmoral and Maywood operators to pay almost $79 million to casinos in Aurora, Elgin and Joliet, prompting the Christmas Eve bankruptcy filing. The appeals court had overturned a lower court ruling in a lawsuit that alleged the track owners, specifically John Johnston, Balmoral's president, had paid a $100,000 campaign contribution to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in return for Blagojevich signing legislation extending an agreement to share casino gambling revenue with state horse racing tracks. The contribution was never made, however.

The track owners are appealing the ruling and arguments in the case are expected to be heard starting Jan. 13, according to court filings.

By Mike Nolan of The Daily Southtown

Reprinted with permission of the chicagotribune.com site

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