Arlington Heights mayor: 'Hands are kind of tied' on Arlington Park's future

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes pledged this week to do all he could to keep Arlington International Racecourse open, but added "our hands are kind of tied," with state lawmakers and the track's owner largely controlling the situation.

Hayes made the comments during a village board meeting Monday in response to a question by a track employee concerned about the future of the racetrack.

"All we can do is encourage positive developments that will help keep the racetrack open," Hayes said. "I'm certainly committed to doing that. I know this village board is committed to doing that as well. We'll continue to do all we can, but our hands are kind of tied just in terms of how much impact we can actually have."

Uncertainty around the 92-year-old horse racing mecca has continued to swirl after its corporate owner, Churchill Downs Inc., announced in August it wouldn't pursue long-sought, casino-style slots and table games once seen as a lifeline for the struggling racing industry. It was a decision Churchill CEO Bill Carstanjen doubled down upon last Thursday during a quarterly earnings call.

At the same time, Carstanjen also reiterated the company's commitment to keep the track open through 2021.

Hayes acknowledged Churchill has been "very noncommittal" about what's happening after 2021.

He said much of what happens lies with Churchill, the track's Louisville, Kentucky-based private owner; the Illinois Racing Board, a regulatory agency that awarded Arlington 68 live racing dates for the 2020 season; and state legislators, who approved a massive gambling expansion in June that allows Churchill to apply for up to 1,200 slots and table game positions at Arlington.

"I think everyone in this room knows that the village has very little say in terms of what happens at the racetrack," Hayes said.

The mayor has lobbied state leaders to support the track's interests, most recently when Arlington applied for its 2020 racing dates before the racing board in September. In a rare move, the board delayed its vote by a week to seek greater assurances from Churchill about its long-term racing plans at Arlington.

That prompted Hayes to send Board Chairman Jeffrey Brincat a one-page letter discouraging members from "taking any action that would close or reduce the racing dates at Arlington" in 2020.

In the letter, Hayes wrote that he understood there are differences of opinion between some racing board members and Churchill, but that closing or reducing the racing dates was "an extreme and unacceptable response."

At the board meeting Monday night, racetrack employee Mike Goodman said he appreciates that Hayes sent the letter in an effort to keep the track open, at least for now.

"I know it's going to take a village to keep it open," Goodman said.

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  Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes read a proclamation in August in honor of Dick Duchossois, the chairman emeritus of Arlington International Racecourse, alongside Duchossois' wife, Judi. Barry Rozner/, August 2019
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