The ticking clock on Arlington Park’s 97-year history of racing sped up this weekend when employees for the iconic suburban Chicago track were issued layoff notices.

Arlington Park layoff notices
Arlington Park issued layoff notices to all union employees over the weekend. The suburban Chicago track is on the selling block and current owner Churchill Downs Inc. plans on selling to a non-racetrack entity. (Image: Arlington Park)

According to the notice, which the Chicago Daily Herald reported, track workers will lose their jobs within 14 days of the Sept. 25 season finale. Under Illinois law, employees must be given 60 days notice of impending layoffs. Track president Tony Petrillo sent the layoff notice to unionized track employees.

The Daily Herald reported those were pari-mutuel clerks, in-house broadcast TV employees, racing valets, parking lot attendants, starting gate staff, program sellers, and off-track betting clerks. The Teamsters represents those employees. The notice also went to electricians covered under contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

“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,” the Daily Herald reported of the notice. “Consistent with these plans, employment separations present 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.”

Arlington Park’s proposed sale looms over all

That notice comes as Arlington Park’s parent company, Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI), sifts through offers for the track. CDI put the track up for sale in February and company officials, starting with CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen, made it clear they don’t intend on selling to an entity that will keep the racetrack.

On a second-quarter earnings conference call last year, Carstanjen said that the economics for Arlington Park racing “don’t work.” In the company’s view, that’s because CDI owns the majority stake in Illinois’ largest casino, Rivers Casino. That casino is located 15 miles from Arlington Park in nearby Des Plaines.

CDI has its second-quarter earnings call for investors and the media scheduled for Friday. That same day, dates for the 2022 racing schedule are due to the Illinois Racing Board. CDI officials did request an application for 2022 racing dates, but even if they submit one, it’s not binding.

Another historic track could reap the benefits of closure

Should Arlington Park close three years shy of the century mark, one track will remain in the Chicago area – Hawthorne Race Course. That 130-year-old track in Stickney was once frequented by Chicago mob boss Al Capone. It runs both Thoroughbred and Standardbred races, and is currently adding a casino.

“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,” Nick Micaletti, the business agent for Teamsters Local 727, told the Daily Herald.