Bye-Bye Bears? Arlington Heights deal could lure team from Soldier Field

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO — WGN Investigates has exclusive insight into the plans to bring the Chicago Bears to Arlington Heights.

The team has reached a deal to buy the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse, in a move that shook the city and its diehard football fans.

For more than 100 years, Arlington had been Illinois’ premiere racing venue. But its future will look dramatically different.

In the weeks before its final race, WGN Investigates got an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the track and a sit-down with Tony Petrillo, the track’s president. At the time, it wasn’t known the Bears would buy the property, only that the track was up for sale.

Although, Petrillo did share how easily the massive parcel could hold a new NFL stadium.

“You could fit the whole existing Soldier Field inside our infield right there,” Petrillo says. “It fits right into the footprint. And you look at that – that’s just a very small portion of this property.”

Horse racing enthusiasts had hoped racing would remain. But Petrillo was candid about the challenges facing, not only his track but the entire horse-racing industry. 

“With the advent of sports betting, online gaming, online casinos, you’re going to see people staying at home and not coming out to the racetrack,” he says.

To his point, the industry’s main revenue source is called the handle, or the amount wagered on races. It’s been declining for years, not only at Arlington but on thoroughbred and harness racing meets statewide, from a total of $1.1 billion in 2000 to $537 million last year.

At the same time, the cost to operate the track has climbed.

“It’s saddening but, you know, you have to move on,” he says.

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