Arlington Heights panel endorses idea of Bears sportsbook at Arlington Park

Bettors were able to place wagers on horses for nearly a century at Arlington Park.

Should the Chicago Bears redevelopment there come to fruition, fans may be able to put down money on football games and a whole host of other sports too.

A lower-level appointed Arlington Heights panel Wednesday night made that a distinct possibility by recommending changes to the zoning code that would open the door to a sportsbook as part of the Bears' stadium and mixed-use development.

The four-member ordinance review committee, a subset of the plan commission, unanimously recommended approval of an amendment to the Arlington Park overlay zoning district that would list a sports wagering facility as a possible use on the sprawling development site.

The full plan commission is expected to take up the proposal and hold a formal public hearing Oct. 12, while the village board will vote on an ordinance to enact the change Nov. 7.

The village board's June 22, 2021, vote to create the so-called overlay zone - which includes a 23-item list of prohibited uses, from adult businesses to car washes - came four days after the NFL franchise's announcement that it submitted an offer to track owner Churchill Downs Inc. for the 326-acre site.

Since then, the Bears have signed a preliminary $197.2 million contract for the land and unveiled a conceptual redevelopment plan that includes a domed stadium and sportsbook on a 120-acre portion of the site, and a commercial/retail and housing district on the other 206 acres.

"In our discussions with them, they have asked us if we would consider amending the zoning ordinance just to allow them the right to apply (for a sportsbook)," said Charles Witherington-Perkins, the village's director of planning and community development. "This is just another tool in the toolbox for the Chicago Bears Football Club, if they move forward with their plan, to try to help make the project more economically and financially viable."

The committee's vote Wednesday - even the village board's upcoming vote in November - doesn't constitute approval of a sportsbook. But it would allow such a wagering facility to be considered by the board in the future as a special use in the zoning code.

And approval of a sportsbook is tied to approval of a development that includes a stadium, under the new village rules.

The 2019 state gambling expansion law allows sports betting parlors at stadiums with a capacity of at least 17,000.

The law also allowed the three horse racing tracks in the state to add general sports betting next to their existing pari-mutuel wagering on races. Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero partnered with PointsBet to open a sportsbook, while Fairmount Park did the same with FanDuel in downstate Collinsville. Arlington applied for a master sports wagering license but then withdrew, along with the opportunity to add slots and table games.

Bears President/CEO Ted Phillips has sought - so far unsuccessfully - to add a sports betting lounge to Soldier Field as part of discussions with the Chicago Park District.

But in response to an audience question at the team's Sept. 8 community meeting at John Hersey High School, Phillips said the club had no plans to open a full-fledged casino at Arlington Park.

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This sketch shows one of two proposed pedestrian bridges that would lead to a new Chicago Bears stadium at Arlington Park - a site that could also include a sportsbook, a hall of fame and a team shop, team officials say. Courtesy of Chicago Bears
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