Possible Chicago Bears sportsbook earns key vote from Arlington Heights commission

An Arlington Heights panel Wednesday endorsed the prospect of a sportsbook as part of the Chicago Bears' proposed $5 billion redevelopment of Arlington Park.

The plan commission voted 7-0 to recommend to the village board that it make changes to the shuttered racetrack's overlay zoning district that would list a sports wagering facility as a possible use on the sprawling development site.

The proposed amendment came at the request of Bears officials, who have the 326-acre property under contract and believe a sportsbook would be valuable to the overall stadium and mixed-use development it is proposing.

"We haven't quantified what that value is, but we do know that with all the new developments in any stadium or arena where sports betting is legalized, there is a sportsbook involved with it," said Cliff Stein, the Bears' general counsel, during a separate meeting with village trustees Monday night.

Stein noted that plans for sportsbooks have been unveiled at Wrigley Field and the United Center.

Under current NFL rules, the Bears could not own the sports wagering facility itself but could partner with a sports betting operator that would legally hold the state sports wagering license.

"We can own the land and we can own the building and we can have a partnership," Stein said.

The team has had a sponsorship agreement with Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and its BetRivers sportsbook since June 2021 - a deal that was inked only days after the club submitted a bid for the Arlington Park land. It was a notable development because racetrack owner Churchill Downs Inc. controls a 61% stake in Rivers.

The deal allows BetRivers to have in-stadium signage at Soldier Field, and social media, print and digital ads. That also includes the digital billboard ad that flashes along Route 53 on the west side of the Arlington Park property - where the Bears envision their new domed stadium.

Under the zoning rules recommended Wednesday night, approval of a sportsbook would be tied to approval of a development that includes the professional sports stadium.

But the appointed panel's vote - even the village board's upcoming vote on Nov. 7 - doesn't constitute the formal sanction of a sportsbook. It would, however, allow such a wagering facility to be considered by the board in the future as a special use in the zoning code.

"This is just the ordinance approval; this is the first stage in the process," said Susan Dawson, the plan commission chair.

Though the Bears are the ones to request a sportsbook on the Arlington Park property, it was the village - formally - that was the petitioner before the commission Wednesday, in a request for a text amendment to the zoning code.

Like the meeting Monday, Bears representatives were in the front row of the village boardroom Wednesday night: Stein, the Bears' in-house attorney; Paul Shadle, an attorney from DLA Piper, which is representing the club; and Paul Milana, an architect with Hart Howerton, the master planning agency the team has retained.

But unlike the village board meeting two nights before, plan commissioners didn't have any questions for the team representatives, and the meeting was over in 15 minutes.

Only one person spoke during the formal public hearing on the sportsbook proposal.

"I'm not interested in betting over there," said Melissa Cayer, a regular attendee of board meetings in Arlington Heights. "I thought Arlington Park racetrack wasn't going to sell to another betting facility."

Besides an enclosed stadium and sportsbook, the Bears have proposed a mixed-use transit-oriented development that would include one or more hotels, other commercial and retail uses, a fitness center, a hall of fame, a performance venue, restaurants, residences, open space and parks.

A closing on the $197.2 million purchase is scheduled for later this year or early next, but first the team is trying to secure approval of a predevelopment agreement with the village. The nine-page document, which suggests future zoning changes and public financing that could make the $5 billion redevelopment vision a reality, will also be considered by village trustees Nov. 7.

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  Arlington Heights plan commission Chair Susan Dawson, left, talks with Chicago Bears attorney Paul Shadle, while commission member Terry Ennes shakes hands with Bears attorney Cliff Stein. Also pictured is panel member John Sigalos. The commission Wednesday endorsed the idea of a sportsbook as part of the team's proposed Arlington Park redevelopment. Christopher Placek/
  From right, Charles Witherington-Perkins, Arlington Heights' director of planning and community development, talks with Village Attorney Hart Passman, Chicago Bears attorney Cliff Stein, and other team representatives, after a plan commission meeting Wednesday night. Christopher Placek/
  Arlington Heights resident Melissa Cayer approaches the podium in the village boardroom Wednesday night, when a public hearing was held to consider the possibility of a Chicago Bears sportsbook at Arlington Park. Christopher Placek/
  The Arlington Heights plan commission Wednesday night voted 7-0 to recommend changes to zoning code that could one day lead to a sportsbook at Arlington Park. Christopher Placek/
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