Layoff notices to Arlington Park employees say 'facility is being permanently closed'

In yet another nail in the coffin for Arlington Park, track employees received formal notice over the weekend that they will be laid off two months from now, when horses cross the finish line for the final time.

The memo from track President Tony Petrillo to unionized employees of the historic Arlington Heights oval comes as corporate owner Churchill Downs Inc. has been evaluating purchase offers for the 326-acre property since June 15.

“As it was announced earlier this year the Arlington Park Racecourse, LLC has been placed on the market for sale which will result in the closure of Arlington International Racecourse,” Petrillo wrote. “Consistent with these plans, employment separations presently are expected to begin on or about September 25, 2021. The entire Racecourse facility is being permanently closed in conjunction with the expectation of the sale.”

Employees will be permanently laid off within 14 days of the last day of racing Sept. 25, Petrillo said.

Petrillo didn't respond to a request for additional comment Monday.

The announcement was expected but is still disappointing, said Nick Micaletti, business agent for Teamsters Local 727, which represents 50 employees at the track. That includes racing valets, starting gate workers, parking lot attendants, and program sellers at the track and off-track betting parlors.

“It's a reality now, whereas before it was, well, hopefully somebody comes in and buys it and does the right things and helps Illinois horse racing,” Micaletti said.

Other union members that received Petrillo's notice include pari-mutuel clerks, in-house broadcast TV employees and electricians represented by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134.

Arlington started its expected final season in April with a skeleton crew of 270 employees, including those unionized and non-unionized, seasonal and full-time. Pre-pandemic, there were as many as 1,100 to staff a regular season.

Micaletti doubts Churchill will sell to a group that wants to preserve horse racing and add more gambling, to avoid competition with its nearby Rivers Casino property in Des Plaines. But he is waiting to see if Churchill submits an application for 2022 live racing dates to the Illinois Racing Board, due by the end of the week.

Churchill has requested an application from the state regulatory agency, and with or without a property sale, it's possible the company could lease the track to another entity to maintain racing there at least in the short term.

Many Arlington employees also work at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero, when thoroughbred racing moves there in the fall and spring. But they now fear they'll be out of work half the year.

“There's this symbiotic relationship with Arlington and Hawthorne that's helped the Illinois racing industry,” Micaletti said. “Without Arlington — one of the nicest, most beautiful tracks in the country — it's a one-track town now.”

• Daily Herald sports columnist Jim O'Donnell contributed to this report.

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