Racing board chairman wants meeting with Churchill Downs to discuss Arlington Park
Illinois Racing Board Chairman Dan Beiser on Tuesday called for a meeting with top Churchill Downs Inc. brass to talk about the uncertain future of Arlington Park and the Illinois horse racing industry.
The request comes nearly a week after the Louisville, Kentucky-based corporation's deadline for redevelopment proposals and purchase offers for its 326-acre racetrack property in Arlington Heights.
"I think this is the proper time now to make that contact," Beiser said during the monthly meeting of the state regulatory board. "Prior to this, the bidding process was open and was ongoing. That has come to a conclusion, and now, from what we've been told in the past, their decision is going to be made sometime in the third quarter.
"But we would like to again try to ask them to please bring some conclusion to this that would allow for people to plan for their future. And also ... to let them know how important we think it is for horse racing in the state of Illinois, but also horse racing nationwide, that some kind of hopeful accommodation can be made to promote that."
Beiser, of downstate Godfrey, said he wants to find out -- as much as company officials are willing to divulge -- what's going to happen in the short and long term with the sales process. He also pledged to reiterate to company officials "how much this uncertainty is impacting the men and women of the horse racing industry."
"Between the pandemic that was out of anybody's control and then this situation, the last two years have been unbearable for these men and women and their future," he said.
When Churchill CEO Bill Carstanjen said in February the prime real estate was being put up for sale for "other non-horse racing, mixed-use options," he said he planned to work with state and local authorities to relocate Arlington's racing license.
But there are legal questions over the process to do so.
Beiser's brief comments at the end of the appointed panel's meeting came after Commissioner Alan Henry's latest prepared remarks about his hope for the track's survival. The Deerfield author, journalist and longtime Arlington box holder -- appointed to the racing board by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in February -- said he remains hopeful that Churchill will sell to one of the groups intending to preserve live horse racing at Arlington.
While many believe the "decapitation" of the Illinois horse racing industry is about to occur, Henry said "an eleventh-hour reprieve is absolutely possible."
He echoed comments of former Gov. Jim Edgar, who called upon state leaders including Pritzker to exert pressure on Churchill. Edgar, the former Republican governor and longtime racehorse owner and breeder, said in a May 30 Daily Herald story that the state has leverage over Churchill as the company bids for the coveted Waukegan casino.
"As I interpret Edgar's comments, he is saying that in the name of upholding the Horse Racing Act, in the name of saving Arlington Park, and in the name of sparking a renaissance of the horse racing industry statewide, it's time for the key players, and that includes the state, to step up and make a deal that would result in the continuation of horse racing at Arlington Park," Henry said.
As to the bombshell revelation last Thursday that the Chicago Bears submitted an offer for the Arlington Park land, Henry noted similarities in 1975 and 1989 -- when there was "noise" about the team's possible relocation -- but both times, it didn't happen.
The only other proposal revealed publicly is that of a consortium led by former Arlington Park President Roy Arnold, whose group wants to preserve the track and grandstand and redevelop other uses around it.
Though Churchill has intimated that it would not sell to a developer that wants to maintain live horse racing -- for fear of gambling competition with its sister property Rivers Casino in Des Plaines -- Henry said who's to say one or more horse racing groups isn't the highest viable bidder.
"For the future of Arlington Park, and for the future of the industry, I am choosing to remain hopeful," Henry said.