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Track slots idea needs discussion
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 12/7/2009 12:18 AM

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There are certainly pros and cons to every suggestion of increased gambling in Illinois. And plenty of people to espouse those views.

We think we need to hear from them again on the idea of slot machines at racetracks including Arlington Park in Arlington Heights.

That kind of discussion was missing when the state approved the legalization of up to 45,000 video gambling machines for bars, restaurants and other establishments with liquor licenses.

Instead, municipalities and counties were told to have those discussions later - if they didn't act, the machines would be legal. And over the last few months at least 40 of those governmental bodies have voted against gambling in their communities.

That may put the estimated $500 million a year in revenue for the state's public works program in jeopardy.

The steady drumbeat of towns opting out caused racetrack owners to step up - again - and ask for slot machines at their facilities.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, was cool to the idea right off the bat. We think he is being shortsighted in not at least entertaining hearings on the proposal, which some estimate could bring in up to $200 million a year.

It's been floated and killed many times before. But given that the state expanded gambling to such an extent with video gambling machines, one wonders how a slot machine at a place already devoted to gambling would be worse than at the neighborhood tavern.

"You changed the rules of the game" with the latest gambling expansion, Hawthorne Race Course President Tim Carey told lawmakers.

In Arlington Heights and the Northwest suburbs, Arlington Park is vital to the economy. We have our qualms about any increased gambling and we are not advocating slots at the track just yet. But keeping the horse racing industry in Illinois healthy and shoring up the state's considerable financial needs are two priorities that demand a full and open discussion on whether this should be done.

That said, we also stand by our concerns of last spring when the legislature attempted to pass a similar proposal without any input from the village of Arlington Heights. The community's view is of utmost importance when discussing any kind of gambling expansion. Those in neighboring towns should also speak up.

Arlington Heights is on record as opposing slots since a 1997 referendum. It's time to find out if that view has changed. The village board is ready to say no to video gambling. In a committee meeting last week, though, one trustee said it was easier to regulate gambling in two locations - the racetrack and Arlington Trackside - than in several places liquor is served. That is logical and is also the thought racetrack owners have on a statewide scale.

In any case, public hearings are needed. Then our elected officials can make an informed decision, rather than one made quickly or at the last minute as is so often the case.