CHICAGO (CBS) -- Churchill Downs Incorporated announced Tuesday it is moving forward with a sale of the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse, although the company said it still plans to hold all scheduled races this year.
The company said it does not expect any sale of the property to be completed before the conclusion of the 2021 race schedule, which includes dates from April 30 through September 25.
"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, in collaboration with the Village of Arlington Heights, to transition this storied location to its next phase," Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated, said in a statement. "In the meantime, we are very committed to pursuing the relocation of Arlington's racing license to another community in the Chicagoland area or elsewhere in the state. We are exploring potential options with the State and other constituents and remain optimistic that we can find solutions that work for the State, local communities and the thousands of Illinoisans who make their living directly or indirectly from thoroughbred horse racing. We are committed to the Illinois thoroughbred racing industry and will consider all options in working toward opportunities for it to continue into the future."
Arlington Racecourse currently is serving as a COVID-19 testing site for the State of Illinois.
The facility was forced to close for a couple months last year due to the pandemic, but resumed horse races in July.
In 2019, Churchill Downs warned the racetrack could move somewhere else, after opting not to apply for a casino license. At the time, Carstanjen said the taxes in a newly signed Illinois gaming law were just too high to make enough money off slot machines and table games.
"Notwithstanding our steadfast commitment to the Illinois Thoroughbred racing industry and despite the good faith intentions of everyone involved in the passage of the Illinois Gaming Act, the economic terms under which Arlington would be granted a casino gaming license do not provide an acceptable financial return and we cannot responsibly proceed," Carstanjen said in a news release at the time.
Carstanjen said at the time the Chicago market already had seen a proliferation of video gambling terminals, and faced the possible introduction of five new gaming facilities and more gaming positions at existing casinos.
"Arlington would enter this market with an effective tax rate that would be approximately 17.5% - 20% higher than the existing Chicagoland casinos due to contributions to the Thoroughbred purse account. This disadvantage in a hyper-competitive gaming market, coupled with substantial licensing and reconciliation fees and new, unviable horse racing requirements in the Illinois Gaming Act, makes construction of a casino at Arlington financially untenable," Carstanjen said in the release. "It is with a heavy heart that we conclude that we can't make this work."
Churchill Downs said at the time it would conduct horse racing in 2020 and 2021, and would also apply for a sports betting license while exploring longer-term alternatives. However, the company later opted against applying for a license for a sportsbook.
Thoroughbred racing began at Arlington in 1927, and the track first played host to the Arlington Million in 1981. Arlington was destroyed by fire in July 1985 – with flames sweeping through the huge grandstand and leaving it a mass of charred rubble – but the racetrack still held the Arlington Million less than a month later using temporary bleachers. Arlington reopened in 1989.
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