Churchill Downs seeks to sell Arlington Park racetrack | Yogonet International
The operator is exploring options to relocate the racing license to another community in Illinois

Churchill Downs seeks to sell Arlington Park racetrack

Executives at the operator said they are still committed to have horse racing as scheduled at Arlington from April 30 through Sept. 25.
2021-02-24
United States
Reading time 2:49 min
The CEO said the venue presents "a unique redevelopment opportunity." The company has complained of high gambling taxes in Illinois amid disputes with the horse owners and trainers who compete there. The announcement comes a few days after the company said it will invest in an expansion of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

Churchill Downs said Tuesday it is selling the Arlington International Racecourse and all 326 suburban acres it sits on in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Illinois.

However, executives at the operator said they are still “committed” to have horse racing as scheduled at Arlington from April 30 through Sept. 25, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

CEO Bill Carstanjen signaled a potential sale last summer when he declared the property would have “a higher and better purpose,” but Churchill Downs previously denied reports that Arlington was on the block.

The company has complained of high gambling taxes in Illinois amid disputes with the horse owners and trainers who compete there, and who viewed it as the ultimate stab in the back when Churchill Downs refused to take advantage of new state gambling legislation in 2019 that allows the state’s three surviving racetracks to become casinos. While the slots and sportsbooks viewed as lifelines for the foundering industry are being built up at those two other tracks — Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and Fairmount Park near St. LouisChurchill Downs will seek bids for Arlington through the brokerage firm CBRE.

“Arlington’s ideal location in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, together with direct access to downtown Chicago via an on-site Metra rail station, presents a unique redevelopment opportunity,” Carstanjen said in a statement. “We expect to see robust interest in the site and look forward to working with potential buyers, in collaboration with the Village of Arlington Heights, to transition this storied location to its next phase.”

Carstanjen said Churchill Downs is “very committed to pursuing the relocation of Arlington’s racing license to another community” in Illinois, though that’s not how the process works in the state. Tracks apply for specific racing dates with the Illinois Racing Board, not a moveable license. Members of that governor-appointed state board have slammed the company’s past threats to move.

Churchill Downs says it’s “exploring potential options with the State and other constituents and remain optimistic that we can find solutions that work for the State, local communities and the thousands of Illinoisans who make their living directly or indirectly from thoroughbred horse racing.”

“We are committed to the Illinois thoroughbred racing industry and will consider all options in working toward opportunities for it to continue into the future,” Carstanjen said.

Horse owners and trainers represented by the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association have long said the easiest way to do that would be for Arlington to become a sportsbook and “racino,” with the additional gambling revenue supplementing horse racing purses that have shrunk almost in half over the past two decades. Instead, they’ve said Churchill Downs is doubling down on its other major Illinois gambling property, which is just a 20-minute drive away down I-90: Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, the state’s most lucrative gambling house.

“Churchill is just trying to obfuscate from the fact that it cares only about maximizing profit and will gladly sacrifice the spirit of Illinois law and the livelihood of working Illinoisans to serve its greed,” Mike Campbell, president of the horse owners’ and trainers’ group, said in a statement.

News of Arlington’s sale came less than a week after Rivers announced the company would invest $87 million in a 78,000-square-foot expansion to max out with 2,000 gaming positions as allowed under the state gambling expansion. Rivers churned out $321 million in revenue in 2020 despite an extended COVID-19 shutdown, according to state revenue data. Arlington took about half that amount in bets during a full year of racing in 2019, and that’s before paying out winners.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is betting on added revenue from racinos to help fund a $45 billion capital improvement plan. “While we are awaiting details on Churchill Downs’ plans to maintain horse racing in Illinois, the administration will work with all stakeholders to develop an appropriate solution,” a spokeswoman for Pritzker told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We remain committed to ensuring a strong racing industry in our state.”

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