Two groups want to buy Arlington Park, head of horsemen's association says

At least two groups have expressed interest about buying Arlington International Racecourse from Churchill Downs and adding a casino to the property.

That's according to Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, who said he was approached by leadership of the two groups to gauge support from horse owners and trainers about the potential move. At least one of the groups has had discussions with Churchill officials, he added.

Churchill officials have not responded to emails seeking comment about the reports.

Campbell is all for the change in ownership, saying Churchill officials' decision to spurn a casino license offered by the state, after decades of the racetrack lobbying for it, has placed the future of the entertainment venue in jeopardy. Churchill officials said they doubted the new gambling law would allow them to make an acceptable financial return because of fees and taxes.

Until then, everyone "agreed this is the way to make the tracks and horse industry viable into the future," Campbell said. "We're asking them to use the license or move over and sell to someone else."

The casino idea at the track became complicated when Churchill bought Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, just a few miles down the road from the track. Casino-style gambling at the racetrack would certainly cut into action at the casino.

The legislature approved casinos at race tracks along with a massive gambling expansion that includes sports betting and additional casinos in an effort to raise money for a statewide capital improvement campaign. So far, the gambling expansion proposal has been met with a tepid response from local lawmakers and investors. Meanwhile, neighboring states Iowa and Indiana have opened sportsbooks at casinos that are earning those states millions of dollars in tax revenues.

Campbell said the groups who approached his organization are "viable" operators who have the "wherewithal and desire" to run Arlington and add the casino component.

Campbell added that his organization's research indicates the selling price for Arlington Park is somewhere in the ballpark of $200 million to continue operating. If Churchill sold the facility to a developer who planned to convert the property for a different use, the price would likely drop to a quarter of its current worth, Campbell believes. Churchill has only committed to operating Arlington Park through the 2020 season, but even that's in jeopardy because trainers and owners are still feuding with management over the size of purses for the upcoming season. Campbell said he wants an average of at least $200,000 a day in prize money. Churchill has offered an average of $130,000 a day, far below what Campbell's group seeks and what is offered in neighboring states.

Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report.

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