Bears-Arlington partnership “makes too much sense to perkily fire”


As the only one of ten members of the Illinois Racing Board (IRB) directly concerned with the impending closure of Arlington International Racecourse and the devastating impact on the state’s racetrack, Commissioner Alan Henry said at Thursday’s monthly meeting that a losing bidder The circuit sale is still working behind the scenes to work out a deal to keep racing alive alongside a new football stadium on the 326 acre property.

Back on September 29, Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI), the gaming group that owns Arlington, announced that it had signed a $ 197.2 million purchase and sale agreement that would become the crown jewel of Illinois racing for the The planned construction of a new stadium and mixed-use development would be transferred to the Chicago Bears.

With Arlington out of the equation for 2022, the Chicago metropolitan thoroughbred mines will stunt down to just 76 programs with two seasonal get-togethers at Hawthorne Race Course, which also hosts 75 Standardbred races next year.

The day after the Arlington sale was announced, the Senate Executive Gaming Committee met to discuss the future of horse racing in Illinois. Henry said at the October 14th IRB meeting that he “got off with a bad feeling” after listening to the hearing.

“I understand it looks grim,” Henry went on. “But 30-year-old Marine Corps veteran Roy Arnold, the front man of the underbidding, made it clear to the subcommittee that he was not going to retire.”

Arnold previously worked for CDI as President of Arlington, starting in 2006 and resigning in 2010. When the track went up for sale earlier this year, he worked with a group of developers and investors to try and buy the property. This group’s offer was the only known offer to keep racing at Arlington.

When the bears won the bidding process, Arnold said at the Senate hearing the next day that he was ready to either work with the new owners to keep the 125 acres track operational, or step in and pursue the purchase if the Soccer team withdrew.

Henry said that a sales and purchase agreement “is not proof of a deal. There are still many variables out there. Just one of them is that Chicago’s mayor might throw some serious cards on the table at any moment [regarding a counter-proposal to keep the Bears in their current downtown home] now that the bears have called it a bluff. “

Henry continued, “Sure, the final closure of Arlington Park is likely, but it is not inevitable. Why? Because a partnership between Bears and Arlington Park makes too much sense to be carelessly dismissed. And because when the bears withdraw [Arnold’s group] is available.”

Henry said that, as everyone in the industry knows, the 2022 racing calendar is a stopgap solution that is likely to be unsustainable beyond next year. Half a season for both races is just not enough. “

One idea that has been circulated is to build a beaten track on the site of a former state mental health facility in the village of Tinley Park, about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. This would allow Hawthorne to switch to full-time thoroughbred racing, and each breed would have their own year-round racetrack.

“The consensus among riders is that building a harness racing track in Tinley Park is an integral part of the solution and should be treated as a priority. But it just doesn’t happen right now, ”said Henry.

“I’ve heard some Thoroughbred coaches are now considering moving to Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas at the end of the current Hawthorne meeting and not going back in late winter,” said Henry. “Some are also looking to Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, and other states for 2022, as stalls will have to close next summer.”

Henry continued, “Then there is the reality that prepaid betting platforms are rapidly taking up increasing percentages of the betting account. That means getting more and more money from that [horsemen’s] already miserable purses. The laws that regulate this division must be rewritten to better ensure a healthy industry. “

Henry also noted that while Racinos have been legal in the state since June 2019, they are not in use at Hawthorne or FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing (the renamed Fairmount Park), so gaming revenue does not add to the wallets.

Henry suggested that Hawthorne and FanDuel should have a fixed item on every IRB agenda going forward to update their progress on building Racinos and also to “address the harness trace situation”.

But apart from one commissioner who thanked Henry for his “particularly interesting” comments, no other IRB members expressed support for Henry’s proposal on the standing agenda item. And none of them interfered with the subject of “comment comments” on the agenda about the condition of the circuit.

This “elephant-in-the-room” pattern of largely ignoring the state’s worst and most pressing racing problem has continued at IRB meetings for much of 2021. With the exception of Henry, who has spoken out on Arlington’s imminent closure six times in a row since CDI declared the property would not be sold for horse racing, the other nine IRB commissioners have for the most part held a breathtaking silence over the IRB Chicago racing collapse preserved.

What other topics did the IRB take up on Thursday? The procedure was almost entirely official.

With 10-0 votes, the IRB approved the licensing of an outrider and an entry clerk for Hawthorne’s upcoming harness meeting, paid Quarter Horse purses to FanDuel for the four races that were carded last season, and signed the grant of a par- Mutuel tax credit for track and off-track betting licensees.

The IRB also had to pull back and ratify its schedule for 2022 from last month as the way it was elected did not comply with state law on open meetings. This required the commissioners to electronically sign the related documentation and the meeting stalled briefly when several commissioners could not figure out how to do it.

The IRB also spent time during Thursday’s public session congratulating an employee on running a marathon and discussing the upcoming move to new office space, which has been described as a more modern “new playground”.