O'Donnell: 5 more years of racing at Arlington Park, then Bears? McCauley's common sense says yes

  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.com, Aug. 12, 2017Horses in the Bruce D. Memorial Stakes pass the grandstand at the Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights Saturday.

    John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.com, Aug. 12, 2017Horses in the Bruce D. Memorial Stakes pass the grandstand at the Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights Saturday.

  • Attorney Thomas McCauley is a former member of the Illinois Racing Board.

    Attorney Thomas McCauley is a former member of the Illinois Racing Board. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 9/15/2021 2:46 PM

IS THERE A DIVINELY CRAFTED LIFEBOAT available for the interim future of Arlington Park that includes the continuation of racing beyond 2021 and construction of a new Bears stadium?

Tom McCauley thinks there could and should be.


McCauley is the well-positioned Chicago attorney who at age 31 masterfully guided Dick Duchossois and partners in their 1983 negotiations to purchase the track from Gulf & Western.

Two years ago, he was the most vigorous member of the Illinois Racing Board to poke through the divert-and-diminish tactics of Churchill Downs Inc. and its plans to present sham meets in 2020 and 2021 at the storied oval.

NOW MCCAULEY IS VOICING spirit and vision into a timeline that would buy Arlington at least five more years and as many as 10 as a fully operational racetrack.

"The McCauley Plan" calls for CDI to get the Bears the parcel of the 326 acres necessary for the billion-dollar George S. Halas Stadium.

While the stadium is being planned, financed and constructed, McCauley said the land owners should lease Arlington Park to a credible, credentialed thoroughbred track management association.

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That would mean racing at AP through at least 2026.

Concurrently, "The McCauley Plan" would also assure CDI shareholders of maximum return on their investments regarding sale of the Arlington property. That "shareholder value" is professed to be the overriding concern of Bill Carstanjen, the CEO of Churchill Inc.

SAID MCCAULEY -- who left the IRB last year after serving Govs. Pat Quinn, Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker:

"The CDI lease scenario would provide the Bears the five-year window needed to design, finance and build the facility. (The stadium) would be located at the top (north-northwest edge) of the trapezoid and include a revamped train station, rehabilitated parking and maybe other training amenities.

"It might even have some CDI seed money, which would morph into part ownership of the facility. Maybe not, because of (NFL) skittishness over gambling, which we all know is a joke.

"Anyone could make an operating profit on a live race meet. The supposed losses over the (recent) years were largely due to enormous depreciation, meaning they were paper losses.


"So, meeting reasonable lease payments with virtually nothing diverted to maintenance or capital improvements would be easily feasible.

"The grandstand, oval, barns, backstretch and parking footprints thereby would be effortlessly financially parked until the gold dust from the stadium pizzazz could be maximally monetized.

"I'm saying 10 years and then 'adios' to all things racing and CDI cashes in on the exponentially enhanced land value realized by the halo effect."

THE LEARNED COUNSEL IN NO WAY ignores the relative inconsequentialness of Arlington Park to Carstanjen and other masters of the Louisville game.

"AP is a flyspeck on the CDI balance sheet," McCauley said. "There (is) no clamoring to sell now. Hanging on to realize full potential in several years would be easy to justify from both corporate governance and shareholder relations viewpoints.

"The scenario, of course, depends on political considerations as well. For example, aside from crocodile tears for the cameras, will Lori (Lightfoot) and all really care if the Bears were to leave?

"I know Richie (Daley) didn't allow it, but her crowd is very different."

HANGING HIGH ABOVE THE CDI MOON, according to McCauley, is the specter of the company's participation in the potential acquisition of the Waukegan casino license along with Des Plaines/Rivers partner Neil Bluhm's Rush Street Gaming.

Bluhm and CDI -- along with two other finalists -- are scheduled make concluding public presentations to the Illinois Gaming Board Oct. 13. A decision is expected early next year.

The others still in the chase for Waukegan lucre are Full House Resorts of Las Vegas and Lakeside Casino LLC, a firm shepherded by former Grayslake state Sen. Michael Bond.

WHETHER THE BEARS headed to Arlington would be a help or hindrance to CDI's pursuit of the Waukegan gaming enablement is a tricky matter, in the opinion of McCauley:

"CDI wouldn't want to jeopardize its chances for Waukegan if the Bears option were too offensive (to ultimate Illinois power brokers). If Carstanjen has the requisite -- and to-date well-camouflaged -- humility, he'll enlist a pro like Bluhm to handle all things political.

"If not, he'll be very chagrined when, defeated, he absorbs the message behind, 'Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.' "

AND MCCAULEY'S PROJECTION on the chances of Arlington Park living on borrowed time for as long as another decade?

"Aside from the acknowledgment that it all makes too much sense, I'll still give it a '6.'"

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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