Bidder: Churchill Downs Is ‘Protecting Rivers Casino,’ Not Illinois Horse Racing

Posted By Joe Boozell on September 15, 2021

Roy Arnold, the former president of Arlington International Racecourse and CEO of Endeavor Properties, led a group that bid $120 million to buy the track from Churchill Downs.

Arnold told the Chicago Tribune that his group was one of three finalists for the track. However, he hasn’t heard from Churchill Downs in more than a month.

Arnold believes Churchill Downs is steering the sale away from anyone who wants to continue horse racing or bring casino gambling to Arlington Park, as his group does.

He said:

“My only conclusion is that they are motivated by the desire to limit competition. This is about protecting Rivers Casino.”

Churchill Downs owns a majority stake in Rivers Casino, which is in Des Plaines.

Rivers is the most popular casino in Illinois, and many suspect that Churchill Downs wants to keep horse racing and casino gambling out of nearby Arlington Heights in an effort to stymie competition.

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (ITHA) recently called on Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to investigate whether Churchill Downs has violated antitrust laws. If there will no longer be horse racing at Arlington Park, only two racetracks in Illinois will remain.

Churchill Downs said in a statement:

“There was strong interest by many qualified bidders to purchase the property, and our team continues to work through the sale process. In order to preserve the integrity of that process, we have executed confidentiality agreements with each bidder, and we intend to uphold our obligations under those agreements. As such, we will not comment on any negotiations or speculation by others. CDI will provide an update on the sale process at the appropriate time.”

All of this could mean that the Chicago Bears are a serious contender for the property.

Bears are one of the Arlington Park bidders

The Bears submitted a proposal for Arlington Park earlier this year. We don’t know the terms, but there is reason to believe they could wind up being the choice.

For starters, the Bears would not keep horse racing at the space or offer casino gambling. The team could build a retail sportsbook, but that’s small potatoes compared to a full-blown “racino.”

There is also some smoke surrounding the Bears, Rivers and Churchill Downs.

The Bears recently made Rivers Casino’s sportsbook operator BetRivers their official sports betting partner, moving on from PointsBet. Rivers Casino is also the official casino of the Bears.

Mike Ditka is even the BetRivers brand ambassador. Between other business ties and the fact that the Bears fit the mold of what Churchill Downs is (or isn’t) looking for, the stars seem to align.

We should know Churchill Downs’ decision in the coming weeks.

Final days of horse racing at Arlington

Arlington Park has hosted thoroughbred horse racing since 1927. The last horse races will likely run at the park on Sept. 25.

In total, there are six more racing dates left on the Arlington calendar. They will take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week and next. Races begin at 2:25 p.m. CST and conclude at 6:30 p.m.

Without Arlington, the lone horse racing tracks remaining in the Land of Lincoln would be Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing in Collinsville. Stickney is just outside of Chicago, while Collinsville is in southern Illinois.

Sept. 25 will be a sad day for Illinois horse racing fans. And if Churchill Downs chooses the Bears, there will be a mixture of sad and happy football fans in the Chicagoland area.

Photo by Charlie Riedel / AP
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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for NCAA.com since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, FoxSports.com and NBA.com. Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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