Daily Herald
Arlington Hts. trustees favor slot machines at racetrack
By Sheila Ahern and Ashok Selvam | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 1/22/2008 9:57 PM | Updated: 1/23/2008 7:00 AM

The Arlington Heights village board - not state lawmakers - should decide if Arlington Park gets slot machines, trustees said Tuesday.

If the board gets that vote, there's a good chance Arlington Park would get their 1,100 slot machines. Five trustees and Village President Arlene Mulder expressed some support for the idea at Tuesday's board meeting. No official vote on the slots was taken.

More than 100 people crowded an Arlington Heights village board meeting on Tuesday. Those in favor of slots were given red carnations to wear, courtesy of Arlington Park. Those against slots wore "casi-no" buttons.

About 15 addressed the board and about two-thirds of those supported slots.

"This was a very strong show for the track," Mulder said after the meeting.

Trustees Helen Jensen and Virginia Kucera spoke out in strong support of the track getting slots. Trustees Bert Rosenberg, John Scaletta and Joe Farwell said it's an idea the board and Arlington Heights residents should at least consider.

"It's time for the track to get slots," Jensen said. "I think if there was a referendum today the track would have no problem getting their support for slots."

Rosenberg said completely shunning the gaming expansion plan state lawmakers are considering puts Arlington Heights in a bad position.

"I understand revenues at the track are going down every year and needing a level playing field," Rosenberg said. "If slots do come here, I'd like to negotiate with the state and get the best deal possible for Arlington Heights."

Trustees Tom Hayes and Tom Stengren said they wouldn't support slots. Trustee Norm Breyer was very careful not to state his opinion.

While Arlington Heights trustees want to make the slots decision, it's unlikely they will.

Arlington Heights does have home-rule powers, but the legislation state lawmakers are considering would usurp that power.

Lawmakers spent most of 2007 proposing gambling expansion as a way to address the state's fiscal crisis, and including slots at Arlington Park appeared to be gaining political momentum.

But now there's no consensus on whether to expand gambling, and no vote is expected anytime soon. Lawmakers have finished their business for January and aren't due back at the Capitol until mid-February.

Arlington Heights resident Peter Connolly said America has long accepted that gambling was a viable way to make money to pay for governmental services. He said the time to debate the morality of gambling had long past.

"That riverboat sailed a long, long time ago," Connolly said.

Arlington Heights resident Ken Nielsen disagreed.

"Gambling is not the answer to sustaining the quality of our life and paying our bills," he said.

Arlington Park President Roy Arnold sat alongside Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce members on Tuesday. The chamber released a statement in favor of slots this week. Soon racetracks in Indiana and Pennsylvania will have slot machines, which will hurt Arlington Park.

"You can't isolate Arlington Heights," Arnold told board members "(Slots) are absolutely essential and it's important we address this. We want to work with the community."

In 1994, about $206 million was wagered by people visiting the track and Trackside, an off-track betting restaurant adjacent to the track. In 2007, that figure was $67 million.

While the slots decision currently rests with state lawmakers and not Arlington Heights, Arnold wants local officials to support the plan.

"We work with the village every day," Arnold said after the meeting. "When we want to expand, we need permits to do that."

Arlington Heights officials are on record as opposing slots at the track, via a 1997 non-binding board resolution.

But it's not clear if that resolution would stand today.

"This is a different board," said Arlington Heights resident Nancy Duel, a local activist who has spoken out against the slots at the track. "Virginia (Kucera) has been on record as being opposed to slots and she's totally flip-flopped. It's time for more community education."

Arlington Heights officials say the track brings in $680,000 annually in tax receipts.