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County, Grand Victoria see slots at Arlington as death of jobs, charity
By James Fuller | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/25/2010 12:00 AM

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Expect more unemployment, crippled charities and crumbling infrastructure throughout Kane County if Arlington Park is allowed to have slot machines.

A bevy of public officials, representatives of local nonprofits and the management of the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin delivered that doomsday message Monday morning. Kane County trotted out a sampling of organizations that said they'd be financially devastated if Arlington Park gets slots in anticipation of state lawmakers tackling pending gambling expansion this week.

Elgin Mayor Ed Schock presented a list of nearly $236 million in projects the city funded via riverboat money its received since the casino first opened. The bulk of the projects were street and building improvements. Schock said slots at the racetrack will not solve the state's revenue crisis because there's only so much gambling activity to go around. Slots at Arlington Park will merely change the geography of where gambling occurs, he said.

"A transfer of revenue is not new revenue for the state," Schock said. "It is not all new revenue because it's going to cannibalize two of the boats."

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said changing gambling rules in Illinois creates less incentive for new gambling revenue to come to Illinois because the rules are always changing.

"If we want new revenues in this state, then we have to have a relatively placid, a relatively low-risk investment environment for the gaming operations to come in and say, 'Yeah, we made this much profit last year. This year we're going to plow this much back into Illinois.' Then you'll see growth."

Jim Thomason, general manager of the Grand Victoria, said growth of riverboat profit is in full reverse. Profits plummeted 33 percent, roughly $143 million, since 2007 and the start of the smoking ban, he said. The recession sent profits nose-diving even more. More than 250 employees have lost their jobs at the casino because of the profit loss. Annual contributions to Kane County's riverboat grant money dropped by more than $2 million as casino profits evaporated.

That's particularly bad news for the organizations Kane County helps fund with those riverboat grants. The county doled out nearly $40 million to local nonprofits and organizations even closer to home, such as Kane County's drug court and CASA, a group that provides legal services for abused children.

To put the impact in perspective, Thomason said slots at Arlington Park pose a larger threat to Kane County's riverboats than even the new casino in Des Plaines. He said internal projections indicate an additional profit loss of 22 percent, at best, for the Grand Victoria, and a loss of up to 30 percent in the worst-case scenario. The reason for the added losses stems from 90 percent of casino's customer base coming from within a 25-mile radius of Arlington Park. The county's recent decision to reverse its ban on video gambling in unincorporated areas has no impact compared to the Arlington Park slots, Thomason said. With a $500 maximum payout, local video gambling machines are small potatoes compared to the slots Arlington Park would have, he said.

"We're looking at Arlington Park, which is a fantastic facility, putting 1,200 slots machines in that area," Thomason said. "That changes the dynamics of the situation entirely when you have Des Plaines and Arlington Park so close in proximity. Now you'll have additional drawing power. You'll have additional marketing going on, marketing that is going to be permeating the existing areas where we are drawing our customer base. The dynamics change exponentially."