So you’ve decided to invest in a horse race track. Congrats! You are in for a lot of fun. The only thing is: aging rapidly. That, or you’ve chosen an unlucky zebra—but either way, it’s not what you want for your buck. Here’s a fun fact: chicagoland speedway is the second-oldest active racetrack in the country, and it gets more fun with each passing year. Here’s why.
A Wild Ride Through American History
Back in 1910, the grand opening of chicagoland speedway kicked off a golden era for horse racing in the United States. It was the country’s first permanent racetrack—and it quickly became home to some of the greatest names in American history. It was during this time that many racing greats were born—and many legends were made. Let’s take a quick trip through American history and see what these stables are made of.
The Post-Recession Era
In the wake of the Great Depression, the United States opened up its arms to those in need of a chance at a new life. They may not have had the money for food or fuel, but they could find or manufacture many goods for trade, such as lumber, grain, steel, and livestock. Horse racing was no different, and many people, especially those in the Midwest, came back to the sport they loved. The post-recession era saw a 20% increase in wagering and attendances at American racetracks, and the nation’s horsemen rejoiced.
Old And In The Way Of The Sport
Fast-forward a few years and we’re now in the middle of World War II. Horse racing went through a bit of a lull as people put their lives on the line for their country. However, it was truly the golden generation that rejuvenated interest in the sport. Post-war America was a place of opportunity, and many affluent families saw the value in keeping a horse close by as a status symbol, a way to spend time with the kids, or just for fun. The baby boomers grew up learning to ride, play polo, and place wagers. They inherited a love for the sport from their parents and grandparents who were devoted horse lovers.
The Decline Of Attractions
Through the next several decades, interest in horse racing continued to grow, but slowly. The number of permanent horse racing circuits in North America doubled from five to ten, and many more followed suit. However, attendance and wagering habits continued to decline, especially after the invention of the automobile. The rise of the sports car and the rock song made people want to go to the beach or to a movie theater rather than to a horse race. Attendances dipped below 100,000 for the first time in 1964, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that they started to tick upwards again. In 1974, the New York Times ran a story about chicagoland speedway and its struggle to stay afloat financially. It was at that point that things started to shift in favor of the horses. As a last resort, the owners of the track tried to cut costs and improve revenues, which led to a greater degree of legalized gambling. It was the last straw for the IRS, who cracked down hard on the business, threatening to shut it down if they didn’t collect the $15,000 back-taxes they believed the owners owed the government.
The Revival Of Chicagoland Speedway
In 1977, the owners of chicagoland speedway went to court and contested the charges. They argued that gambling was a viable option for those who wanted to wager on horse races, but they refused to acknowledge the IRS’s right to tax them. Eventually, the government relented and let the owners keep their business, on the condition that they pay back taxes totaling $400,000 and install an electronic gaming machine. The government also gave them permission to offer odds of 5,000:1 or greater, effectively removing the maximum limit on wagering. Gambling was legal in the state of Illinois at the time, but only at certain tracks like chicagoland speedway. If the government hadn’t intervened, the owners would have been forced to temporarily close their doors. After years of decline, they saw this as a chance to revive the sport they loved and gave it their all, working hard to make the financially troubled track a success. They installed the electronic gaming device, expanded the seating capacity, and started bringing in high-profile athletes and celebrity guests to draw large crowds and raise interest in the sport.
Back To The Future
If you’ve followed this far, you are either a hardcore enthusiast or a future lawyer. If you’ve been here since the beginning, congratulations! You know more about chicagoland speedway than most people who have been there their whole life. It’s interesting to see how much the sport has changed since those early days. Those were the days of bare knuckles and oil-slicked horses, and men like John Delaney and Chris McGrath were making their bones in the sport. Times have changed—along with attitudes towards gambling and the treatment of animals. Today, gambling is officially sanctioned in a majority of states and people are much more accepting of the practice. Even at chicagoland speedway, which remains one of the more strict horse racing jurisdictions, they have fully embraced the practice and even hosted an official gambling party in honor of their 50th anniversary. Let’s take a trip back in time to relive those glorious days when America was at the peak of its power and influence.