Tavern and restaurant slot machines are being blamed for the final undoing of the Quad-City Downs, which will end horse racing simulcasts at month's end.
The closing will spell the end of an era for the East Moline track, which began offering live harness racing in 1973.
Horses in the last live harness race at Downs made their final turn for home on Sept. 6, 1993. Riverboat casinos have threatened the existence of the facility ever since, city officials said.
"I got about a 48-hour notice on it," East Moline Mayor John Thodos said Friday of the Jan. 31 closing of what now is dubbed Trackside Quad-Cities and is operated by Arlington International Racecourse. "This has been a long time coming."
Revenue from horse racing has been steadily declining in Illinois, state and local officials say, and the legalization of thousands of tavern slot machines drove the final nail into the Downs' coffin. Efforts to add slot machines to the live simulcasts of thoroughbred and harness racing never made it to the homestretch.
"Due to the state of the industry as well as continued dramatic decreases in pari-mutuel wagering since 2001, Quad-City Downs will cease operations effective close of business January 31, 2015," Arlington General Manager Tony Petrillo wrote in an email statement Friday. "We appreciate the patronage and loyalty of our customers over the years."
Thodos said riverboat gambling killed the racetrack.
"It's a testament to the Downs people that they were able to keep it going this long," he said.
For more than a decade, state legislators tried to add slot machines at the Downs, hoping the so-called "racino" status would add a new level of wagering to the declining facility.
"The local owners have been great partners," Thodos said. "They peeled off some ground for (FedEx, which built a transfer facility on the grounds), and they peeled off some ground for a school."
The state-issued racing license remains with the track, the mayor said, adding the 40-plus-acre grounds are in good shape.
"It's also in a fantastic location," he said. "There have been efforts to bring back live racing since I took office in 2005. Unfortunately, we're now seeing the demise of the Downs. My hope would be that the Legislature will change, and we'll get live racing again.
"We'll have to see what (Gov.-elect Bruce) Rauner's position is on gambling," Thodos said.
Outgoing state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, has been an advocate for the Downs and led racino efforts and talks of restoring live harness racing. He did not return phone calls seeking comment on the closure Friday.
The off-track betting operation has generated little revenue locally, Thodos said. The $20,000 annual property tax bill left the city with about $4,000, he said. Sales tax revenue was modest, and the track's sewer and water usage also was lean, he said.
"It's no coincidence live racing went away at the same time the riverboat casinos came," he said. "Gambling killed the Downs."