Arlington Park horse racing track is up for sale

David Heinzmann, Chicago Tribune
·2 min read

The owners of Arlington Park, the state’s flagship race track, announced Tuesday they were putting the Arlington Heights landmark up for sale.

The decision is not a surprise. Churchill Downs Inc., the Louisville-based company that owns the track, drew harsh criticism from the Illinois Racing Board in September 2019 when they declined to guarantee that they would hold racing dates beyond 2021.

In its statement Tuesday, company officials indicated the 326-acre site likely was headed toward redevelopment for some other use.

“Arlington’s ideal location in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, together with direct access to downtown Chicago via an on-site Metra rail station, presents a unique redevelopment opportunity. We expect to see robust interest in the site and look forward to working with potential buyers,” CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a statement.

The company is looking to transfer its racing license to a different location in the Chicago area, he added. The Racing Board could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Horse racing in Illinois has struggled to survive in recent decades.

Once one of the only avenues for legal gambling, the advent of riverboat casinos, as well as video poker, and now sports betting, has eaten into the horse track business, which brings high overheard costs with large facilities, stables, and payrolls.

The state’s 2019 gambling expansion law cleared the way for race tracks to add casino games to their facilities. But Churchill Downs already had begun to hint that it was moving away from the so-called sport of kings. The company, which bought Arlington in 2000 for a reported $71 million, also owns a majority interest in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

Churchill Downs planned to apply for a sports betting license for the racetrack, but a state requirement that Arlington would have to pay additional taxes on gaming revenues to fund horse racing purses made a casino there “financially untenable,” a company official has said.

Arlington, which opened in 1927, has hosted some of the biggest names in horse racing over the years. Its latter-day fortunes were guided by Dick Duchossois, who bought the racetrack in 1983. When Arlington was destroyed by a fire in 1985, Duchossois rebuilt it at an estimated cost of $200 million, only to shut down in 1998 and 1999 to protest riverboat gambling in the state.

dheinzmann@chicagotribune.com