Arlington Park Prepares For Closure, Sends Layoff Notices To Employees

Written By Joe Boozell on July 27, 2021
arlington park layoffs

Arlington Park track president Tony Petrillo sent a memo to unionized employees stating that they will be laid off in two months, likely when horses will run at the racecourse for the last time.

Churchill Downs put the track up for sale earlier this year and has been evaluating offers for more than a month. The Chicago Bears are among the bidders for the property.

Petrillo wrote in the notice, via the Daily Herald:

“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. 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.”

Sept. 25 is Arlington Park’s last racing day of the season. The track will permanently lay off employees within two weeks of that date.

Arlington began this season with just 270 employees. That’s well short of the usual pre-pandemic number, which exceeded 1,000.

Racing valets, starting gate workers, parking lot attendants, pari-mutuel clerks, in-house broadcast TV employees and electricians were among those to receive the layoff notices.

Nick Micaletti, who helps represent 50 employees at the track, said:

“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.”

Churchill Downs recently requested an application for 2022 racing dates. However, we don’t know if it will submit the application.

Who’s going to buy Arlington International Racecourse?

Churchill Downs is selling the track, and it also owns a majority stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

Des Plaines and Arlington Heights are less than a 20-minute drive away from one another. Since Churchill Downs purchased a majority stake in Rivers Casino, its actions suggest a desire to prevent horse racing and casino gambling at the park.

The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (ITHA) has called for an investigation into Churchill Downs for possible violation of antitrust laws.

At any rate, that’s important context when determining a buyer.

As previously mentioned, the Chicago Bears have submitted an offer for the land. Churchill Downs may be inclined to sell to the Bears, as they would not compete with Rivers Casino.

In fact, the Bears are partners with Rivers Casino and BetRivers Sportsbook is the exclusive sports betting partner of the team. The two sides struck the deal soon after news broke regarding the team’s Arlington bid.

With that said, the Bears aren’t the only bidder.

Glenstar Properties and UrbanStreet Group have also submitted offers. Glenstar has a longstanding relationship with Neil Bluhm, a key Churchill Downs partner. Bluhm is also the co-founder of Rush Street Gaming, which owns a minority stake in Rivers Casino.

There are also likely more offers unknown to the public.

Horse racetracks dwindling in Illinois

Without Arlington Park, there will only be two horse racetracks in Illinois.

Those are Hawthorne Race Course (Stickney) and FanDuel Sportsbook & Horse Racing (Collinsville).

Collinsville is in southern Illinois, while Stickney is near Chicago.

Many Hawthorne employees also work at Arlington. Barring an unexpected development, Churchill Downs’ Arlington Park sale will be a major blow to the Illinois horse racing industry.

Photo by M. Spencer Green / AP
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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, and 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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