Arlington Heights to consider prohibiting Churchill Downs from barring gambling in track sale

  • As Arlington Park opened its gates for the expected final season Friday, village officials released details about steps they may take Monday to try to preserve horse racing there, and maintain the possibility of adding other forms of gambling.

      As Arlington Park opened its gates for the expected final season Friday, village officials released details about steps they may take Monday to try to preserve horse racing there, and maintain the possibility of adding other forms of gambling. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/30/2021 6:50 PM

Arlington Heights trustees Monday will consider prohibiting Churchill Downs Inc. from placing a restrictive covenant on the Arlington Park land, as part of the municipality's effort to preserve redevelopment options for the massive site -- including its continued operation as a horse racing track or adding other forms of gambling there.

Trustees will also vote on a resolution calling for an overlay zoning district that would list specific uses village officials don't want to see on the property, from adult businesses to kiddie parks.

 

"We are planning to take some proactive steps to ensure that any future plans discussed for Arlington Racetrack meet the desired land uses the village would like to see on this significant parcel, and that the door to continued horse racing at the track remains open," Mayor Tom Hayes said in a statement Friday.

The village board meeting will be the elected panel's first significant discussion on the disposition of the 326 acres at Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road since Churchill Downs put the site up for sale in February. The meeting comes ahead of a June 15 deadline for interested developers and investors to submit proposals to the Louisville, Kentucky-based horse racing and gambling corporation.

Horse trainer Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, told the Daily Herald this week that he's serving as a facilitator with a group of investors who hope to preserve live horse racing at the track. Their proposal includes the addition of industrial, residential and entertainment components, plus a hotel, on the sprawling property.

Fellow trainer Larry Rivelli also told the Daily Herald this week he's involved in an effort with other trainers and owners to buy the historic track.

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Hayes said this week the continuation of live horse racing -- as well as the long-rumored prospect of a Chicago Bears stadium -- are both on the table.

The proposed prohibition on Churchill from creating any restrictive private real estate covenants on gambling appears designed to head off the possibility the company might seek such language in a land deal. Churchill's sale of Arlington was precipitated by its decision not to add slots and table games at the track after its earlier acquisition of a 61% stake in Rivers Casino in nearby Des Plaines.

The move not to apply for extra gambling at the track was decried by Campbell, horsemen and village officials, but Churchill executives said the tax structure of the 2019 state gambling expansion law was unworkable.

The ban on restrictive covenants would "preserve all options for the property whether it includes complete redevelopment through a long-term master plan or continued use as a horse racing facility with additional redevelopment," the village staff wrote in the board meeting packet.

Village officials believe any type of restrictive covenant concerning gambling uses would be contrary to village code and the village's public policy, they wrote.

The village board meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be held virtually at vah.com.

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