Arlington Heights trustees laid another piece of groundwork Moday that would allow the Chicago Bears to proceed with their plans for a massive redevelopment of Arlington International Racecourse by approving a zoning change that would allow a sports betting facility in the area.
A sports betting facility is part of the Bears’ $5 billion proposal to create a new NFL stadium and a mixed-use commercial and residential district on the 326-acre Arlington Park site. Trustees also approved a “road map” agreement intended to guide further negotiations around the site, for which the team signed a $197.2 million purchase agreement in 2021.
Much of the attention so far has been focused on the mixed-used development that would take up about two thirds of the site – to the chagrin of some members of the Village Board. But team representatives told trustees Monday that a sportsbook would be a critical component of the NFL-centered portion of the proposed development.
“We believe that a sports betting facility will be an integral part of the new stadium development corridor,” Bears General Counsel Cliff Stein said.
In July 2021, the Village Board approved an ordinance that established an overlay zoning district for the racecourse site. While there was a requirement, with the zoning, that any development of the site be part of a broader “planned unit development,” sports betting was not among the approved uses for the site.
Monday’s decision changes that.
Illinois first legalized sports betting in 2019. In states that allow sports betting, Stein said wagering facilities are becoming the industry standard for new stadium projects, with older stadiums also jumping on the trend. The Chicago Cubs are working toward building a sportsbook at Wrigley Field and similar plans are underway at United Center.
“This is really state of the art for new developments of professional sports stadiums across the country and it really would put you at a competitive disadvantage [to not have the facility alongside the stadium],” Stein said.
Village leaders emphasized that the board was not considering a particular betting facility and that none had been proposed to the village.
“We’re not approving a sports wagering facility this evening,” Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said.
Instead, zoning rules were amended to add a sports wagering facility to the list of allowed entities in the Arlington International Racecourse area.
A staff memo accompanying the ordinance explains that the change only adds a sportsbook to the list of possible special uses in the zone covering Arlington Park.
“At this time, the Village is proposing adding to the Overlay Zone as a Special Use a Sports Wagering Facility,” the memo states. “It is important to note that this Ordinance does not approve a Sports Wagering Facility.”
Additionally, the ordinance approved Monday only adds a sportsbook facility to the list of approved uses if that facility is awarded a special use permit and if the facility is attached to a professional sports stadium.
The village Plan Commission last month approved recommending to the Village Board that the use change be made.
The change passed the Village Board despite some comments from citizens who said they don’t want to see sports betting come to Arlington Heights.
Chris Hiebert asked trustees during the public comment portion of Monday’s board meeting to put the brakes on the whole project, but particularly objected to the possible addition of a sportsbook facility on the site.
He said many of his concerns have to do with who the stadium and likely attendant sportsbook facility could attract to the village.
“I moved to Arlington Heights to avoid the city,” Hiebert said. “I don’t see a pressing need to bring more of the city to Arlington Heights.”
Village leadership has emphasized that so far there is no agreement yet with the Bears and that any plans are in the earliest and most tentative phases of development.