Churchill Downs Incorporated has announced the sale of the historic Arlington Park racetrack in suburban Chicago to the NFL’s Chicago Bears for a potential new stadium featuring a sports-betting facility.
The 326-acre racetrack in Arlington Heights closed its doors for the final time on Sunday after 94 years in operation following Churchill Downs’ announcement in February that it was looking to sell the property for likely redevelopment.
The Bears entered into an agreement to pay $197.2m for the site, with the sale scheduled to close in either late 2022 or early 2023 “subject to the satisfaction of various closing conditions.”
“Finalizing the [agreement] was the critical next step in continuing our exploration of the property and its potential,” said Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips. “Much work remains to be completed, including working closely with the Village of Arlington Heights and surrounding communities, before we can close on this transaction.”
Although racing may no longer take place on the site, another form of gambling is at least a partial factor in the Bears’ desire to leave their current home at Soldier Field in downtown Chicago for the suburbs.
Chicago radio station WBEZ obtained emails that showed a conflict between the Bears and the Chicago Park District, which owns the Soldier Field property, about offering sports betting inside the stadium, either through a mobile betting lounge or a full retail sportsbook.
The Bears pitched the installation of a sports-betting lounge in 2020, prior to the NFL loosening its restrictions on having an in-stadium sportsbook.
The Arizona Cardinals have since become the first NFL team to announce plans to install an in-stadium sportsbook, set to open in 2022.
Phillips wrote in a June email that the Park District had refused to engage in good-faith discussions on a sports-betting facility for more than a year. Two weeks later, the team announced it had placed a bid for the Arlington Park property.
Included in the massive 2019 Illinois gaming expansion was a provision that allowed major professional sports stadiums and arenas in the state to obtain licenses to open their own sportsbooks in or around the stadium, with mobile betting permitted within a small radius surrounding the property.
Of the eligible teams in the state, only Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs has so far announced plans to offer a sportsbook via a partnership with DraftKings.
However, neither the Cubs nor any other Illinois pro sports team has even applied for a sports wagering license, let alone received one, according to the Illinois Gaming Board’s website.
The most notable reason why sportsbooks have not begun popping up in Chicago stadiums is that local government approval is still required via an ordinance permitting sports betting from the Chicago City Council. To date, no legal land-based sportsbooks operate within the Chicago city limits, although mobile betting is permitted.
An ordinance could come before the council before the end of 2021, but that might not clear the path for retail sports betting at stadiums and arenas either.
A sports facility sports wagering license in Illinois requires a stiff $10m upfront license fee and $1m renewals every four years thereafter.
That is a much more costly proposition than the two other U.S. jurisdictions where in-person sports wagering can be offered at major sports arenas.
In Arizona, sports facility owners or their designated partners must pay $750,000 upfront for a license that also includes full state-wide mobile sports wagering. Meanwhile, the initial fee for a license to offer sports betting at a sports facility in the District of Columbia is $500,000 — or 20 times less than in Illinois.