Arlington Park on the block: Corporate owner Churchill Downs looks to sell historic racetrack

Arlington International Racecourse, pictured in 2000. The track’s corporate owner Churchill Downs is putting it up for sale.

Arlington International Racecourse, pictured in 2000. The track’s corporate owner Churchill Downs is putting it up for sale. | AP

Churchill Downs Inc. is pitching the 93-year-old track as a “redevelopment opportunity,” meaning 2021 could be the last year the horses run at Arlington.

Horse racing could make its final turn at Arlington Park this fall.

Touting the 93-year-old track as a “redevelopment opportunity,” the corporate owner of Arlington International Racecourse announced Tuesday it’s selling the historic oval and all 326 suburban acres it sits on.

Executives at Churchill Downs Inc. says they’re “committed” to having the ponies run as scheduled at Arlington from April 30 through Sept. 25, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess if the starting bugles will call again.

Bill Carstanjen, CEO of the Louisville-based gambling and racing corporation, 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 bitter disputes with the horse owners 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.

So 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. Louis — Churchill 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.”

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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 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 …read more

Source:: Chicago Sun Times

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