October 21, 2021

Hub Arkush: Does Bears new partnership show their interest in Arlington Park is real?

Ah ha! Now it all is starting to make some sense.

When Chicago Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips issued the surprise statement last Thursday regarding the Bears’ last-minute bid to purchase the 326-acre Arlington Park property from Churchill Downs Inc., it was met with some short-term excitement but mostly gaping yawns and a fair amount of “How many times have we seen this movie before?”

After all, by my count, this is now at least the eighth time the Bears have threatened to leave the Chicago city limits and the fourth time the new location has been Arlington.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot immediately countered with, and I’m paraphrasing, “Sure, now that we’re negotiating improvements at Soldier Field with them, they threaten to move again, just as they have during every negotiation the city has had with the Bears since 1970.”

But with Tuesday came another mildly surprising statement from the Bears.

“We are incredibly excited to announce BetRivers and Rivers Casino as our first multi-year exclusive partner in the Sportsbook and Casino categories,” Phillips said in the statement. “We look forward to connecting with our fans in fun and unique ways through these avenues and couldn’t be prouder to be building this relationship with a hometown company.”

Hmm, “connecting with our fans in fun and unique ways through these avenues.” Why didn’t Phillips just say betting on all sports, including the Bears?

While the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Murphy vs. National Collegiate Athletic Association paved the way for legalized gambling on a state-by-state basis, it’s something that many in the NFL’s old guard still struggle with.

Up until a few months before the court’s ruling, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still was trekking up to Capitol Hill regularly – as did his predecessors Paul Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle – to lobby against legalized betting with the NFL fearing it could signal a death knell for America’s favorite sport. That all changed within minutes of the court’s ruling.

Now most of the online gambling industry’s biggest companies, including DraftKings and PointsBet, are NFL sponsors.

Kind of amazing what $1 billion a year, give or take a few hundred million, will do, aye?

I have no dog in this race and no problem whatsoever with folks who like to wager a shekel or two, by all means enjoy.

I don’t only because I’ve always hated the losing a lot more than I enjoy the winning, but that’s just me. More importantly, that’s not what I’m writing about here.

Did the other shoe just drop on an Arlington Heights sports palace?

At the very bottom of the Bears press release, as is pretty much standard operating procedure, you’ll find a brief write-up on the Bears and one on Rivers Casino and BetRivers.

And right there you’ll see one of the owners, in fact the majority owner, is Churchill Downs Inc., the same folks the Bears are bidding with to buy Arlington Park.

It gets better. The minority owner but principal operator of the casinos is Neil Bluhm, who’s one of the richest men in Chicago. Bluhm is a minority owner of the Bulls and White Sox and a self-made guy who made his billions first as an attorney but mainly as a real estate developer.

The reason nobody takes the Bears seriously as a threat to build and/or manage a sports palace in Arlington Heights is the McCaskey family doesn’t have the resources or the know how. That’s not really a debate.

But Churchill Downs and Bluhm have plenty of both, and they could almost certainly get it done with very little or no taxpayer money at all. How hard would it be for the McCaskeys to trade or sell a minority interest in the team – or more if that’s what the family wants – for an interest in their very own, money-printing sports entertainment venue?

I’ve attempted multiple calls, texts and emails since the press release was sent. As of yet they have yielded no direct connections or plans for any of this, but it is now time to start taking the Bears to Arlington Heights story very seriously.

Stay tuned people; this could finally really be a thing.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media