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Casino Queen to acquire Fairmount Park — if gaming legislation passes

From Illinois Business Journal news services

EAST ST. LOUIS  – The employee group that owns the Casino Queen said today it has reached agreement to acquire nearby Fairmount Park racetrack if appropriate legislation is passed by the Illinois General Assembly.

Employee-owned CQ Holdings, Inc., which owns the Queen said it has reached an agreement with Fairmount Park Holdings to acquire the Collinsville-based racetrack. The agreement is contingent upon passage of gaming legislation that would authorize slots at horse-racing tracks, including Fairmount Park, and requires associated regulatory approval. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The developments were announced in a release from the Casino Queen group.

In the wake of gaming hearings held last year by Rep. Bob Rita and his committee, and with encouragement from state legislators, Casino Queen and the owners of Fairmount Park began good faith negotiations “to identify a win-win scenario” for the two entities, both of which were facing unique challenges and declining revenues due to evolving market conditions. The agreement reached this past week represents that win-win for both companies and for the communities and region, officials said in a release.

“We needed to find a solution that bolstered the racetrack for the future without compromising the operations of the Casino Queen, and this acquisition affords us the opportunity to do just that,” said Jeff Watson, president and general manager of the Casino Queen. “This agreement sets in motion our goal of sustaining and growing good-paying jobs and employee benefits at both facilities. Through this acquisition, the racetrack gets the opportunity to add the slots that are vital to its long-term existence, and Casino Queen can expand its operations while affording track workers the opportunity to participate in an employee-owned company.”

Casino Queen and Fairmount Park “are grateful for local legislators encouraging the parties to come together to create continued economic opportunities for Southwestern Illinois.” Watson noted, “This agreement recognizes a two-step process. The first step was reaching an agreement and the second step is working with our legislators to craft a gaming bill that ensures the success of both companies while generating much needed tax revenue for the State of Illinois and local communities.”

Brian Zander, president of Fairmount Park, noted: “We recognized the importance of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement, and after months of negotiations, we believe the decision to become a part of the Casino Queen family is in the best interest of all parties. It provides job security for employees at the track; as well as the casino, while opening the door for additional investment and employment opportunities at both facilities. We believe we can attract additional customers with a unique gaming experience at Fairmount Park.”

Zander added, “When the current ownership group became involved with Fairmount Park in 2000 our main priority was the preservation and future growth of the horse racing industry in southern Illinois and the thousands of jobs associated with it. We believe that this agreement will help achieve that goal.”

In the same release, and speaking on behalf of area legislators, Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville stated, “I’m delighted to hear that an agreement has been reached. It represents a win-win for both parties and their local communities. I am pleased both sides were able to think beyond their individual circumstances and work toward a solution that should allow both entities to remain profitable and provide much needed jobs for our area,” Clayborne further indicated that, “This is great news for the entire Southwestern Illinois region.”

Under the agreement, Fairmount Park would be operated as a subsidiary of CQ Holdings, Inc., parent company of the Casino Queen, the only employee-owned casino in the country. The existing management at Fairmount Park would remain in place. Timing for finalizing the acquisition will be dictated by the legislative process; however both entities are ready to move forward as soon as all the legislative and regulatory approvals are accomplished.

Csino Queen, 200 S. Front St. in East St. Louis, is the only employee owned, locally owned casino in the country. It was established in 1993 and has since made more than $10 million in charitable contributions and invested more than $200 million in capital improvements on the East St. Louis riverfront.

Fairmount Park is the only horse-racing facility in the St. Louis area. It is currently operating in its 90th season having opened in 1925. Live thoroughbred racing is conducted March through September and simulcasting is offered seven days a week year-round.

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