Arlington Park officials deny track is for sale
Arlington International Racecourse officials on Tuesday denied the Arlington Heights racetrack is for sale or that any offers have been made to purchase it.
Their denial came during a monthly Illinois Racing Board meeting in response to earlier statements by Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association President Mike Campbell.
Campbell told the Daily Herald Jan. 10 that two groups have expressed interest in buying the track from owner Churchill Downs and adding a casino to the property.
Campbell had 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 said.
Racing Board Chairman Jeffrey Brincat took those comments to mean that an offer was made, but Campbell countered that Brincat was putting words in his mouth.
"Two gaming companies called me," said Campbell, who added that both asked not to be publicly identified.
Brincat asked Campbell to provide the racing board with a letter stating the names of the groups and specifics of any offer.
"I'm sure the people of Illinois expect us as a regulatory body to look into it," said Brincat, of Lake Forest.
After reading news reports, Brincat said he called a top Churchill official, who said the company never received an offer "or anything construed as an offer."
When pressed by Brincat, Arlington President Tony Petrillo and Vice President/Senior Counsel John Matter said they were not aware of any sale offers.
Discussion about a possible sale came during a nearly four-hour meeting at the James R. Thompson Center, mostly dominated by back-and-forth between Arlington brass and the horsemen's group over their protracted contract dispute that both sides agree is at an impasse.
At issue are the level of purses for the upcoming 68-date live racing meet scheduled to begin May 1. And underlying the dispute is Churchill's refusal to pursue casino games -- allowed under state gambling expansion legislation approved last year -- that could supplement declining purse revenues.
The association, which represents some 2,500 thoroughbred horse owners and trainers who work at Arlington, is asking for as much as $200,000 in daily purse money, and they say Churchill has offered as little as $130,000.
Last year, purses averaged $151,000 per day.
Petrillo said Arlington might be able to offer as much as $142,000, but he considered the horsemen's higher demands to be "unreasonable."
"It's unrealistic in this economic environment within our industry," Petrillo said. "It would cripple us."
The Illinois horsemen have suggested a possible hiatus of at least some of the high-stakes races during Arlington Million Day -- such as the Beverly D. and Secretariat Stakes -- where big purses on that single day in August primarily go to out-of-state horse owners.
"To see that money leave the purse account on one day is difficult for me to watch," said Chris Block, an Elk Grove Village horse owner, trainer and breeder. "I would love to run in the Million or the other races. I have before. But in this day and age right now in 2020, unfortunately this industry cannot afford that big of a day."
Brincat said both parties could be subject to fines, should the contract dispute continue, since they missed a New Year's deadline to finalize a deal.