Could the Chicago Bears’ bid for Arlington Park International Racecourse be about sports betting – at least partially?
The bid has prompted speculation that the Bears plan to up sticks from their iconic Soldier Field stadium to the Chicago suburbs. That’s at a time when NFL teams are beginning to explore the new opportunities presented by in-stadium sports betting.
A spokesman for the team said the two things were “not related” when quizzed on the matter by WBEZ Chicago this week.
But documents obtained by the area public radio station via a Freedom of Information request suggest the team is exasperated by the refusal of its current landlord, the Chicago Park District, to entertain the idea of a sports book at Soldier Field.
Stonewalled on Sports Betting
According to the documents seen by WBEZ, Bears president and CEO, Ted Phillips, wrote to Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly in April 2020 to float the idea of a sports book in the vicinity of Soldier Field.
Despite offering the Park District 20 percent of revenue generated from advertising at such a venue, his proposal was shot down.
Seven months later, on June 3, 2021, Phillips wrote again, this time in more exasperated tones.
“It is disappointing that it is over a year since we reached out to you and you have refused to engage in good faith discussions about an opportunity that generates revenue for the CPD while leveraging the Chicago Bears brand,” he wrote.
Just two weeks later, the Bears announced their bid for Arlington Park. Neither the team nor the Park District were prepared to tell WBEZ whether there had been further discussions about sports betting since the June 3 memo.
Join the Dots
Should their bid be successful, the Bears would be buying Arlington Park from Kentucky-based racetrack and gaming giant Churchill Downs, which also happens to own a majority interest in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Ill.
Just days after the Bears publicized the bid, they announced a deal that would see Rivers become the team’s official casino partner. Meanwhile, the team’s official sports betting partner would be BetRivers.com, which is owned by Rush Street Gaming, joint owner with Churchill Downs of the Rivers Casino.
But Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot believes the Bears are bluffing, using the Arlington Park bid to gain leverage against its current landlord. The two parties have not always seen eye to eye over things like leases and renovations to Soldier Field.
Back in June, Lightfoot called the team’s interest in Arlington Park “A negotiation tactic. Like most Bears fans, we want the organization to focus on putting a winning team on the field, beating the Packers finally, and being relevant past October. Everything else is noise.”