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Arlington Heights objects to slots at racetrack proposal
Lawmaker says item ursurping local input a 'mistake'
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/16/2009 12:01 AM | Updated: 5/16/2009 11:57 AM

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With Arlington Heights officials objecting to a proposal to put slot machines at Arlington Park without community input, the measure's sponsor called the inclusion of that restriction a "mistake" Friday and vowed to remove it.

"That was never the intent," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, who sponsored the proposal that advanced Thursday. "When you are dealing with something that large you are going to make mistakes."

The amendment says "the regulation and licensing (of slot machines) ... are exclusive powers and functions of the State" and cannot be regulated by home-rule governments like Arlington Heights.

Traditionally, legislation putting slots in racetracks contains such language. Supporters of it argue that giving local officials veto power over slots could jeopardize the complex deal making of gambling expansion along with hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue.

But Arlington Heights officials have long advocated against what they see as a usurping of their authority.

"Because we have to deal whatever happens within our boundaries we like to have input on those issues," Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said Friday.

The proposal allows up to 1,000 casino-owned slot machines at the Arlington Park racetrack. Profits would be shared with the racetrack.

Arlington Park officials oppose the current measure and Link says he plans to rewrite the amendment in the coming days.

The proposal is part of a larger plan to add three casinos, one near Waukegan, in Rockford and Chicago, to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to finance a public works bonanza pitched to create jobs across the state.

State Rep. Mark Walker, an Arlington Heights Democrat, said Friday that he couldn't take a position on the proposal without seeing the final gambling-expansion deal. He did say any final proposal "ought to listen to the local residents."

State Rep. Sid Mathias, a Buffalo Grove Republican whose district includes parts of Arlington Heights, said he will vote against any deal that wouldn't give the final say to Arlington Heights officials.

"It should be the local residents and their elected officials who make the decision, not Springfield," he said.

Tom Grey, spokesman for the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation, agreed that local officials should maintain control of such a plan.

"Even though the people didn't ask for it, this would declare the fact that Arlington Heights now has an enterprise in it that is going to dictate its own terms," said Tom Grey, spokesman for the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation. "And that is dangerous."

A proposal to add slots at Arlington Park and other racetracks is a perennial issue at the state Capitol in Springfield. Track owners have argued they need the extra revenue to pay higher race prizes to draw better horses and more fans to the stands.

Arlington Heights Trustee Norman Breyer said even supporters of slots should still want local control over how they are used.

"Even a fan of it would say, 'Do I really need this traffic every night,'" said Breyer. "Every time this comes up there are residents that want their say and they are certainly entitled to it."