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Deal to put slots at Arlington Park emerging at Capitol
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff

Horses wouldn't be the only game in town if Arlington Park gets its wish for slot machines.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/23/2010 12:00 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - An apparent deal at the Capitol would put hundreds of video slot and poker machines at Arlington Park and other horse tracks across the state, the taxes from which would provide millions for construction spending.

As outlined, the tracks would get a needed financial boost from the business, local governments and their sagging budgets would get a cut of the profits and the state's take would help prop up construction financing since video gambling at bars remains an uncertain proposition.

Exactly when, or if, this deal could be voted on is unknown. But discussions have been going on behind the scenes for weeks and a lawmaker involved in them told the Daily Herald that there's finally an agreement.

"We need money for capital (construction)," said Barrington Hills Republican state Rep. Mark Beaubien, one of the lawmakers participating in negotiations. The deal to emerge Thursday is said to have the backing of Arlington Park and other tracks and the various racing associations such as the Illinois Harness Horsemen Association, which would benefit from higher race winnings and improved facilities.

Thom Serafin, who represents Arlington Park, said, if approved, it would make the track more competitive, bringing in better racing and added jobs.

As proposed, Arlington Park and other Cook County tracks would get up to 1,200 video gambling positions. Downstate tracks would get up to 900. These new video casinos would have to be based within 300 yards of the track.

The tracks would pay up to $25,000 per video gambling machine and the take from the machines would also be taxed. Host communities would get 5 percent of the revenues from video gambling at the local track.

As proposed, local governments would not have a say in whether the machines go into the tracks.

Arlington Heights Village President Arlene Mulder could not be reached for comment Thursday evening. Casino expansion at the track has long been a contentious issue.

Beaubien said such a deal could net the state $300 million a year to help pay off construction financing and could quickly be up and running.

Last year, lawmakers approved a $31 billion construction spending program filled with road, bridge and school projects they'd long sought. The state will borrow to pay for the construction with the annual revenue from higher vehicle fees, alcohol taxes and newly legalized video gambling paying off the tab. But video gambling has been rejected by numerous communities and still faces several regulatory and logistical hurdles before the state ever sees a dollar.