Arlington Park Hopes to Keep Running OTB Until Bears Arrive

Arlington Park, the biggest and most prominent horse racing facility in Chicagoland, or the state of Illinois for that matter, shut down close to three months ago, but the massive stadium keeps remaining in the headlines nonetheless.  operating its off-track betting parlors even The facility’s owner, Churchill Downs Inc., shuttered the very historic track on Sept. 25, and four days later, the local NFL franchise, the Chicago Bears, announced a pending deal to purchase the land.

A lot has been made about whether or not the Bears will actually leave downtown Soldier Field and move to suburban Arlington Heights, and how that would all play out, but that’s still a long ways down the line. It will be well over a decade before the Bears can actually get set up, and up and running at Arlington Park, so what will become of it in the meantime?

The owners of Arlington International Racecourse want to stay in the game, and continue hosting their off track betting options. There are a lot of resources available online, to learn more about odds, so the average punter can stay in the game too. Regulators at the Illinois Racing Board tabled a request from Arlington to keep operating the OTB parlors.

Racing Board commissioner Alan Henry, a former Chicago Sun-Times sports editor, told his former employer:

“What I see in these requests seems an awful lot like the farmer who sells his prized Holstein [cow], then expects to still get paid for some of the milk it produces.”

It’s safe to say he’s not super keen on the idea of the 94-year-old grounds keeping their piece of the sports betting action, as he added: “common sense tells me that inter-track wagering licenses should only be granted to viable track operators that actually want to engage in horse racing.”

Arlington Park has/had a capacity of 35,000 with an additional 12,000 for club capacity, but its closure means you now only have two horse racing tracks left in the state of Illinois. If Henry gets his way, those facilities would handle the bulk of the OTB business, but sports betting in all forms, for all sports, has been revolutionized in recent years.

Sports betting, an umbrella term which encompasses horse racing, is only starting to take off. It’s going to continue growing exponentially, and that no doubt has consequence on the future of Arlington Park. The 326 acre grounds were sold to the Bears for $197 million, and this deal is expected to close in late 2022 or early 2023.

Word is the Bears weren’t going to be able to set up a sports book on site in Soldier Field, for various reasons, and that’s a major factor in their desire to leave.

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Given how the team has played thus far this season, it’s hard to imagine many of us Chicagoans actually missing them when they’re gone. Of course there are so many questions that still need to be asked, let alone answered, when it comes to this endeavor. 

Several NFL teams do not play in the city that’s part of their title, so this isn’t new, and it’s mostly the big market clubs that do so (New York, LA, SF etc.) maybe there is a method to this madness after all.

There is a whole lot that you can do, provided you have the right business minds at the helm, with the added land of a suburban property, which one cannot do when limited in a crowded city location. If this move gets the Bears more autonomy over their business, then they should bring in more revenue, and thus improve the quality of the product.

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Can you trust this club to get it right though?

Recent results certainly say no, and they say no, resoundingly.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram

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