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Arlington track chief: We won't survive without slots
By Sheila Ahern | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/19/2008 6:10 PM | Updated: 1/19/2008 12:42 AM

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If you're against slots at Arlington Park, you're against Arlington Park, Arlington Park President Roy Arnold said Friday in a direct challenge to the village board.

The track - which has been in Arlington Heights for 80 years - will not survive without them, he said.

"That's a very realistic outcome," said Arnold about the track closing if not allowed slot machines. "I'm not making threats, but we need to be able to compete."

Arlington Heights trustee Tom Stengren has asked the village board to reaffirm its position against slots at Tuesday's village board meeting. Officials are on record as opposing slots at the track, via a 1987 non-binding board resolution.

House Speaker Michael Madigan recently backed a massive gambling expansion plan intended to bail out the state's budget woes.

The plan includes a provision to put video poker and thousands of slot machines at horse tracks, including Arlington Park. The plan supersedes the village's authority.

If the village board were to reaffirm its position against slots, the track's Arnold said, it would send a bad message to state lawmakers and not reflect the opinion of most Arlington Heights residents.

Despite the 20-year-old resolution, he said he believes most Arlington Heights residents are in favor of slots at the track.

"There has been gaming in Arlington Heights for more than 80 years," Arnold said. "We're not looking for a major expansion. We're trying to diversify."

Arnold will be at Tuesday's meeting urging the board to support slots.

And the track has mailed letters to residents throughout the Northwest suburbs asking them to attend the meeting in support of slots.

"We made a $17 million investment in 2007 in this community," Arnold said. "We're not looking to walk away. We're asking for help."

In 2006, more than 20 horses broke down during racing. Last summer, Arlington switched from dirt to a synthetic track, which cost almost $17 million.

Instead of opposing slots, the village should be lobbying legislators so the bill gives it a bigger percentage of any money generated, he said.

"The state legislators are interested in what local municipalities say," he said. "It's important they participate."

Today's village board isn't a united front in the stance against slots.

Some, including trustees Tom Hays, Joe Farwell and Stengren said in November they were staunchly opposed to the idea. Others, including trustees Helen Jensen, Virginia Kucera and Bert Rosenberg, said it's an option worth at least looking into.

Village President Arlene Mulder said she would research Madigan's plan this weekend before making up her mind on Tuesday.

"I'm going to do as much research as possible. You never know, you can always learn something new or hear a fresh perspective," she said. "I will say this village is very supportive of the track. It's part of the history of Arlington Heights."

But Stengren said Arnold won't change his mind.

"I won't be swayed by large crowds," he said. "Anyone can fill up a room."

Stengren also doesn't believe the track will shut down without slots.

"My feeling is that it won't happen," he said. "Horse racing is business like any other business."

Arnold disagrees.

A race track in Virginia recently shut down and Arnold blames the business failure mainly on the track not being allowed to have slots.

"It was a brand new track," he said. "It opened in 1999."

The Arlington Heights village board will meet at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the Arlington Heights Senior Center, 1801 W. Central Road.