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Slots at tracks would boost state projects
Letter to the Editor
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Published: 5/10/2010 12:14 AM

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Illinois school and road construction projects authorized by the state's new capital construction law are at risk of stalling because multiple local governments are rejecting a primary source of funding - video gaming.

Critically, the city of Chicago has yet to approve video gaming. Without Chicago, revenue to the state to pay for construction bonds would drop between $95 and $177 million, hobbling thousands of projects.

Even were Chicago to decide in favor, the extensive new state regulatory machinery to license and police 45,000 to 60,000 video gaming machines would be unable to kick-start the program anytime soon.

A credible alternative already exists: permitting existing horse racing tracks to operate gaming machines at their locations, within the current authorized number of such machines. Slots at tracks would generate $100 million to $300 million each year for the state's construction fund. And, just as critically, it would protect agribusiness and modernize horse racing in Illinois.

Increasingly, the Illinois horse racing industry and the 35,000 agribusiness jobs which support it have been financially challenged by the larger gaming industry and obsolete state law which, unlike other states, forbids slots at tracks. The largest purse prizes are found increasingly in states that allow racing to compete with casinos, undermining Illinois horse racing.

Bipartisan efforts have been underway to develop slots-at-tracks legislation which, if properly crafted, can allow Illinois horse racing to regain its position at the top of the nation's racing industry and provide a secure construction revenue stream.

However, any such bill must properly address the time-honored goal of supporting the horsemen and Illinois agribusiness. A fair slots-at-tracks bill must equally share the net benefits, and not simply transform Illinois tracks into casinos at the expense of 35,000 agribusiness jobs as it aims to salvage state construction jobs.

Michael Campbell

Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Chris Block

Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders Association

David McCaffrey

Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association