THE ARLINGTON PARK CLOSURE IS PERILOUS FOR THE ENTIRE AMERICAN RACING ENTERPRISE

Arlington Park is one of the most modern and attractive racetracks anywhere.  Despite its 93-year history in the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Arlington Heights, the track, rebuilt in 1985 after a fire, will be closing permanently after the 2021 meet ends on September 25.

Churchill Downs, Inc. released the following statement:

“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.”

This statement reflects CDI’s conclusion that a close-out real-estate transaction is financially superior to keeping Arlington Park a going concern by accepting a proposed slots-machine deal with the state of Illinois.

The mayor of Arlington Heights said he was sad to see the racetrack cease operations but added that his city would derive more economic benefit from a mixed-use facility than it would from the racetrack.

As with any facility going out of business, the people whose livelihood depend on Arlington Park, as well as the suppliers who service it, will pay a high price.  The human lives disrupted are often obscured by sterile economic development analyses.

Gone from the greater Chicago area are Sportsman Park and harness tracks Maywood and Balmoral.  With the Arlington Park closure, only Hawthorne will be left.

This should be a major concern and action priority for the American racing industry.  Losing a state-of-the-art retail operation in the third-largest city in the United States has very negative ramifications for breeding farms and auction companies especially.  Fewer and fewer big-city places offering pari-mutuel wagering will have consequences.  Not only will access be lost to huge markets for racing bloodstock but future fans and racehorse owners won’t be cultivated.

Like Santa Anita near Los Angeles and Aqueduct in New York, Arlington Park is situated on land that, from a strictly financial standpoint, is too valuable for a racetrack. The privately-held Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita, is not subject to activist shareholders.  By contrast, Churchill Downs Inc. certainly is and its CEO and board have to act accordingly.

The state of affairs with Illinois racing is grim but not hopeless.  A proposed turnaround solution is beyond the scope of this current post.  A future discussion here may delve into the matter further.

To reiterate, if the Chicago area is soon to be left with but one racetrack that is a major blow to the American racing and breeding enterprise, and not a problem confined to Illinois.

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