For a short time only, Arlington Trackside reopens to gamblers

Though part of the pending property sale to the Chicago Bears and closed as an off-track betting parlor, Arlington Trackside is hosting daily cash poker table games through April 13.

Rockford Charitable Games has set up shop inside the old OTB and banquet facility operated by Arlington Park at the corner of Euclid and New Wilke roads in Arlington Heights, where amateur poker players can buy in at one of 18 available tables between 12:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. daily.

The Rockford-based business, which hosts some 300 state-licensed charity poker events a year, secured space at Arlington Trackside from April 2 through April 13.

The betting parlor has been closed for horse racing wagers since the beginning of the year, after the Illinois Racing Board rejected owner Churchill Downs Inc.'s request to keep open its network of six remaining OTBs in the state. Ditka's restaurant, which leased space there since 2014, closed at the end of 2018.

But the two-story building on the southeast corner of the sprawling racetrack property is still open for banquets and special events for up to 200 people, according to Arlington Park's website.

"The players are coming, and they just want a clean, safe place with good lighting to play, and Trackside offers all of that," said Jim Kasputis, owner of Rockford Charitable Games, which organizes the daily poker games and splits profits with charities that are announced for each event.

Under state law, each location is allowed to host a dozen poker nights a year - and why Kasputis' company bounces around hotel conference rooms, banquet halls and country clubs throughout the Chicago suburbs and Rockford area. Each nonprofit group is limited to four events a year.

But there's also legislation pending in Springfield to increase those limits.

Since Saturday, the benefiting charity at Arlington Trackside has been the Rockford Cosmopolitan Club, a social and service organization that raises funds for diabetes treatment and research. Wednesday's charity is the Prospect Heights Lions Club, followed by the Kiwanis Club of Palatine on Thursday and The Literacy Council of Rockford on Friday, Kasputis said.

The most a charity has made is $5,900, Kasputis said, but the Rockford Cosmos say they average between $1,750 to $2,000 on most of their poker nights. Each group pays a $400 license fee and a 5% state tax on gross winnings, in addition to the room rental, equipment and security fees.

The opening weekend at Arlington had big crowds and full tables - as many as 200 gamblers on Sunday, Kasputis said.

The Trackside bar is closed, but Kasputis provides pizza, soft drinks and water for players.

"A lot of regulars come. A lot of senior citizens," he said. "It's a great pastime. We call it a tax on the willing. The people that are coming know that a percentage out of every pot is going to a hosting charity that day."

The poker nights at Trackside come about a month after Arlington Park President Tony Petrillo told the Arlington Heights village board that the facility continues to operate as it did in the non-racing months, as he and the skeleton crew of employees who remain continue to pursue expos, trade shows, car company ride-and-drive events, and other leasing opportunities.

The Bears and Churchill Downs announced a $197.2 million deal for the 326-acre site just days after the final horse race last September. Bears officials confirmed last month that they've retained an architect and other consultants to help put together preliminary redevelopment plans.

The sale isn't expected to close until the first half of 2023.

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  Maureen Uthe of Tinley Park deals cards for poker players Tuesday at Arlington Trackside, which has temporarily reopened for 12 days of the table games hosted by Rockford Charitable Games. Mark Welsh/
  Art Kramer of Northbrook plays his hand at Arlington Trackside during charity poker games Tuesday afternoon. More than 100 poker players were already there; organizers say the tables begin to fill up in the evening. Mark Welsh/
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