CHICAGO - The Chicago Bears announced Tuesday that a northwest suburban casino is the team's first "official sports book."
The deal could be the first step in something much larger. The casino's majority owner also owns nearby Arlington International Racecourse, which the Bears are bidding to buy as a potential new stadium site.
Churchill Downs, Inc., which owns 61% of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, says its horse track in Arlington Heights will close for good on Sept. 25th – the final day of the current racing season.
Last week, the Bears announced a formal bid to buy the site, which encompasses more than 300 acres. There are reportedly other bids as well.
Last Thursday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot dismissed the Bears' implied threat to leave Soldier Field as a mere bargaining ploy. Lightfoot added some of her trademark snark for good measure. She mockingly advised Bears executives to focus on building a better team that could beat the Green Bay Packers.
Tuesday’s announcement of a multi-year partnership between the Bears and Rivers Casino underscores that the team and executives of Churchill Downs have been in serious talks.
Churchill Downs, Inc. says Arlington International Racecourse will shut down for good when the current horse racing season ends September 25th. The mayor of Arlington Heights says Chicago Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips told him the team is serious about buying the site.
"The bears definitely need a new arena that can compete with the other NFL franchises, get it up to industry standards," Hayes said. "You know, the NFL franchises are much more valuable when they own their own stadium."
But those costs are soaring. Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, California, the country's most expensive ever at $5.5 billion, was financed by owners of the Los Angeles Rams. Sofi will seat 70,000, expandable up to 100,000 for special events.
Seating capacity is one Soldier Field drawback. It is the NFL’s smallest, with just 61,500 seats – and the Bears do not own Soldier Field. The Chicago Park District does.
Since the stadium sits in the middle of one of the world’s most beautiful urban parks, the team is effectively blocked from buying and redeveloping adjacent parcels. Think Wrigleyville and the extensive makeover the Cubs-owning Ricketts family has underway.
After the Bears announced the sports book deal with Rivers Casino and its BetRivers app, social media was rife with speculation about future naming rights. One man posted, "BetRivers Stadium does sound pretty legit" for a new arena in Arlington Heights.
Mayor Lightfoot has pointed out the Bears' lease at Soldier Field runs through 2033. That contract does include provisions under which the team could buy out the lease.