Churchill Downs says Arlington Park sale offers expected by June

Prospective buyers of the 326-acre property that's long been home to Arlington International Racecourse are expected to make their offers by the end of June, officials said Thursday.

Bill Carstanjen, CEO of track owner Churchill Downs Inc., said a preliminary bid date has been set as part of the sale process for the prime Arlington Heights real estate, which the corporation put on the market in February. Officials will evaluate the bids as they come in during the company's second financial quarter, then determine next steps, he said.

"I think the ultimate conclusion of that process is something I can't responsibly predict for you because we'll have to see the nature of the bids, and if the property gets bidded, split up between multiple bidders, or if it's a single bidder, etcetera," Carstanjen said during a quarterly earnings call Thursday morning. "So there is a process. The process is underway. The preliminary indications are due in the second quarter, and we'll take it from there and all's good on that front. It's just this is what it takes to run a complex process to sell a big piece of land with a lot of value like that one."

Carstanjen was responding to a market analyst's question about the timing of a potential Arlington sale.

Unless Churchill sells to another horse racing entity, or a sale falls through, the 2021 racing season that begins Friday, April 30, is expected to be the last at the iconic racetrack that's hosted equines since 1927. Churchill has controlled the property since 2000.

Carstanjen on Thursday also shed more light on the corporate decision to sell the track, saying he and officials launched an auction process "so that we can more effectively deploy this currently locked-up capital into high-growth projects."

The Louisville-based company is best known for its namesake track and iconic race, the Kentucky Derby, which will run again Saturday, May 1. But the corporation has increasingly diversified its assets in the gambling and entertainment spaces, with investments in brick-and-mortar casinos and online wagering in recent years.

That includes its interest in nearby Rivers Casino in Des Plaines - the state's most lucrative casino - of which Churchill acquired a 61% stake in March 2019.

Despite its closure for much of January due to state COVID-19 restrictions, Rivers still performed well in the first three months of the year and was a contributor to the company's earnings, Carstanjen said.

In February, Churchill unveiled plans for an $87 million, 78,000-square-foot addition at Rivers that will house a poker room, more slots, an events ballroom and a new restaurant. It'll allow the casino to fully utilize all 2,000 gambling positions authorized under the 2019 state gambling expansion law.

Carstanjen said Rivers will pay $24 million in licensing fees for those incremental positions and $10 million toward its sports wagering license by the end of June. The expansion is targeted for completion in spring of 2022.

"This project is an exciting one for us and we believe a very efficient deployment of growth capital," he said.

Churchill is also part of the team that's bidding for a casino in Waukegan, and Carstanjen reiterated Thursday that officials remain interested in applying for the prospective downtown Chicago casino.

He also repeated his desire to relocate Arlington's thoroughbred horse racing operations elsewhere in Illinois.

"But I don't have anything to report on that at this time, other than we work on it and think about it every day," he said.

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