Lawmakers, chamber receptive to slots at track

  • Race fans celebrate winning at the 27th Arlington Million at Arlington Park in 2009.

    Race fans celebrate winning at the 27th Arlington Million at Arlington Park in 2009. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

Published: 4/23/2010 2:28 PM | Updated: 4/23/201 4:42 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- Arlington Heights trustees aren't keen on the idea of the state shoving a video casino down their throats even though some suburban lawmakers think video gambling at the local horse track is worth pursuing.

When told of the possible deal that would put video slot and poker machines at Arlington Park and other tracks, state Rep. Suzie Bassi said she supported the idea because the slots would be put in areas already under the microscope of gambling regulators. Bassi, a Palatine Republican, said that made it much easier to support than video gambling at bars.

"The state is broke," she said. "There's a lot of things I'm looking at here that I might not look at otherwise. When we have a $13 billion hole in a $27 billion budget, there are going to be difficult choices all the way around."

Under the measure, local governments hosting the machines would get a 5 percent cut of the slot profits.

Still, local governments wouldn't get a say in whether they want the machines at all, which is the main point of contention for Arlington Heights Trustee Joseph Farwell.

"That takes the decision-making factor away from the citizens that the bill mostly affects," he said. "I think it would fine to have the dialogue here in the village about whether or not the slots would be a good thing at the track."

State Rep. Mark Walker, an Arlington Heights Democrat, said he would consider supporting slots at Arlington Park if it would help protect jobs at the track. Walker did take issue with a provision removing any say from local governments.

"I believe in local government," Walker said. "If we make a reasonable decision, we have an obligation to convince the local government that it's correct."

Under the proposal, Arlington Park and other tracks in Cook County would get as many as 1,200 video gambling positions. Downstate tracks would get up to 900. The new video casinos would have to be based within 300 yards of the track.

There are fears, however, that adding slots to Arlington Park could transform the track into a full-blown casino, said Arlington Heights Trustee Tom Hayes.

"No matter how much revenue it produced for the village, I would not be for anything that would create a land-based casino in Arlington Heights," Hayes said.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said he's typically been against slots but wanted to review the legislation and talk with constituents before committing either way. Murphy said not giving local governments a voice in deciding whether they want these devices has been a problem with similar legislation in the past.

"I think they should have some say," Murphy said.

Meanwhile, the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce is publicly backing the expansion of gambling at Arlington Park and is urging lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow it.

Jon Ridler, the chamber's executive director, said adding slots would only expand what the track is already doing and help it stay competitive.

"We would support that with any business in town," Ridler said.

The proposal would help prop up financing for the state's $31 billion construction project. The massive public works program was supposed to be financed partially through video gambling, but that funding source has started to buckle as local governments refused to allow the controversial gambling machines in their taverns.

Village President Arlene Mulder did not respond to calls seeking comment on the proposal.