Arlington Park focuses on entertainment, continues to push for slots
Arlington International Racecourse has reinvented itself to stay viable as interest in horse racing has declined, track executives say, but they believe gaming is necessary to the track's eventual survival.
"We have had to reinvent ourselves and change from being a racing company to an entertainment company," said General Manager Tony Petrillo, told the Arlington Heights business community at the annual Arlington Economic Alliance Breakfast at Ditka's on Wednesday morning.
He described how the upcoming season, which opens on Friday, will be filled with events every weekend. He explained that the track employs about 1,100 people each year and contributes between $800,000 and $1 million to the village of Arlington Heights in tax receipts.
With 60,000 people expected to visit the track this weekend alone, he said the economic impact can also be felt by local restaurants, shops, hotels and gas stations.
But, it's not all good news. Declining interest in the sport coupled with the thousands of video gambling consoles at restaurants and bars across Illinois are hurting the track, Petrillo said.
In the 1990s, Arlington Park was among the top four tracks in the nation in terms of the size of the purses -- or winnings -- it could offer horse owners, Petrillo said. Today, they are ranked 35.
"Looking forward, gaming is something we feel is very much a necessity for Arlington Park," Petrillo said.
Slots at the track -- a long discussed idea that has not been approved by legislators in Springfield -- would bring another 600 to 800 employees, $3 million more each year for the village, and enough profits to keep the track sustainable in the long-term, Petrillo said.
"That's a proven business model we know works," he said.
Mayor Tom Hayes on Wednesday called the track "one of our great businesses in town."
Last year the Arlington Heights village board sent a letter to Springfield saying the village supports slots at the track.
"The village board is committed to ensuring that Arlington Park will remain the jewel of Arlington Heights for 100 years to come, and beyond," Hayes said.
While it is up to Springfield to allow increased gaming at Arlington Park, the topic has not even come up in the last few years because of the ongoing budget crisis in Illinois.
And not everyone approves of the idea -- in Des Plaines, home of the Rivers Casino, there is interest in keeping the expansion of Illinois gambling to a minimum, for instance.
Petrillo asked the public to trust the Duchossois family, which has been involved with Arlington International since 1983, when Richard L. Duchossois headed a group that bought the track.
"If (slots) come to Arlington Heights it is going to be done in a first-class manner," he said. "You have our commitment on that."