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Slots at Arlington Park clears hurdle
By Dan Carden | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/14/2009 5:15 PM

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SPRINGFIELD - Up to 1,000 slot machines could be coming to Arlington Park racetrack whether the village of Arlington Heights likes it or not.

An amendment approved Thursday by a state Senate committee would permit riverboat casinos to partner with Illinois tracks to place between 350 and 1,000 slot machines at horse tracks. The tracks would be landlord for the slot machines and would get a percentage of slot revenues, but the machines would be owned and operated by the riverboat companies.

Yet some local lawmakers have issues with the idea.

"There are a lot of problems with this bill, but one of them is requiring people I represent to accept something without having any input on it," said state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican who district includes Arlington Park. "Forcing this down Arlington Heights' throat is not acceptable to me."

Historically, Arlington Heights officials have been on record as opposed to having slot machines at Arlington Park, said Village Manager Bill Dixon.

In 1997, the village board approved a nonbinding resolution opposing slot machines at the track. But more recently the Daily Herald has reported village board members softening that position so long as the board gets to make any slots decision, not the state.

This proposal, however, would allow slots at Arlington Park regardless of what the village wants. Versions of this idea have surfaced almost annually for years but have yet to become law.

"Arlington Heights, like other communities, objects to having its home rule authority negated on this or any other subject." Dixon said.

The slots at tracks proposal is one component of a major gambling expansion plan that would also allow three new land-based casinos in Park City, Chicago and Rockford. The Park City and Rockford casinos could have 2,000 gaming positions, up from the current maximum of 1,200, while the Chicago casino would be allowed 4,000 positions.

But the plan is not in its final form. Jim Stumpf, vice president of Arlington Park, urged lawmakers to vote against the proposal over concerns of how slot revenue will be distributed.

The amendment was approved, but the plan's sponsor, state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said there will be further changes to address the concerns of the horse racing industry.

Even if the plan is eventually approved by the state Senate, its ultimate fate remains uncertain. House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, has vowed that no gambling expansion plans will pass that chamber this legislative session, which is slated to end May 31.