Report: Unionized Arlington Racecourse Employees Receive Layoff Notices

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In what may be a precursor to the closure of Arlington International Racecourse, union employees at the thoroughbred racetrack in the north Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights have reportedly received formal layoff notices that take effect shortly after the end of the current meet in late September.

The Daily Herald reported Monday evening that unionized employees across a variety of positions — racing gate workers, valet workers, in-house broadcast employees, and electricians — were given two months’ notice, with the layoffs to take place within 14 days of Sept. 25, the final day of the horse racing season.

In a memo from Arlington track President Tony Petrillo that accompanied the notice, he wrote, “The entire Racecourse facility is being permanently closed in conjunction with the expectation of the sale.”

Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Arlington, announced in February it would be selling the 326-acre tract of land that houses the track. The Kentucky-based company has a 62% stake in Rivers Casino, purchased for $407 million in March 2019, and that was one of the reasons it never followed through on plans to build a racino at the track as allowed by the gaming expansion bill signed into law by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker in June 2019.

That bill also legalized sports wagering in the state, and Rivers Casino has been the top retail sportsbook in Illinois. Additionally, its mobile sportsbook, BetRivers, has cleared $1 billion in handle since launching in June 2020.

Friday could provide more clues

Another clue to the fate of the track could be unearthed Friday, which is the deadline for tracks to submit dates to the Illinois Racing Board for the 2022 racing schedule. The Daily Herald reported that Churchill asked for an application, which raises the possibility it could lease the track to continue racing on a short-term basis.

But CDI has been trying to find a suitor that would likely not continue to offer racing, since that lends itself to the possibility of a new owner pursuing the racino Churchill did not and emerging as competition for Rivers Casino, which is just 12 miles from the track. The Chicago Bears recently made BetRivers their official and exclusive sportsbook sponsor and surprised many by making a bid for the land, but the latter maneuver is widely considered to be a negotiating tactic to extract concessions from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city to make improvements to Soldier Field.

In turn, the village of Arlington Heights has positioned itself to offer the possibility of racing to continue for a prospective winning bidder, passing an ordinance prohibiting CDI from inserting “negative use restrictions” among the terms of the sale in May.

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Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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