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updated: 10/23/2010 11:16 PM

53rd House candidates debate slots at Arlington Park

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  • Sidney Mathias

      Sidney Mathias

  • Linda Birnbaum

      Linda Birnbaum

 
 

Candidates vying for the 53rd State House District say they believe in local control over allowing video gambling in establishments, as well as over legalizing video slot machines at the Arlington Park racetrack.

A proposal to allow slots at Illinois racetracks almost cleared the General Assembly last spring, but it ultimately stalled and likely won't resurface until the post-November election legislative veto session.

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The plan would have put as many as 1,200 video gambling positions at Arlington Park and other Cook County racetracks, helping finance the state's $31 billion statewide construction program.

Republican state Rep. Sidney Mathias and his Democratic challenger, Linda Birnbaum, are against gambling expansion.

Yet both candidates say they would support slots at the racetrack if that is the will of the Arlington Heights village board and community.

Arlington Park officials and gambling advocates have said the expansion is needed for the racetrack to remain competitive with other racetracks and casinos in Illinois and elsewhere in the country.

Mathias, a veteran legislator from Buffalo Grove running for his seventh term in office, has historically voted against gambling expansion, including video gambling. Yet he supports slots at Arlington Park, whose revenues have declined significantly over the years.

"I believe that we did the right thing (with video gambling). We allowed local communities to determine if they want it in their community or not," Mathias said. "And we're not doing that, at least (with this) current legislation with gaming at the track."

But Mathias said Arlington Heights residents should have the opportunity to reject slots "because they are the ones who are affected on the ground."

Birnbaum, of Wheeling, agreed that Arlington Heights should have local control over the matter.

"I'm not for the expansion of gambling at all," said Birnbaum, a former Prospect Heights School District 23 school board member. "I think that unless the municipality is behind this and the people who live in the community want it, I can't support it."

Birnbaum said she would like to poll Arlington Heights residents to see where they stand on the issue.

"If the people in the community were behind it and the village trustees were behind it, I would go along with that," she said.

Mathias said he is concerned about how the state will fund capital projects with so many towns opting out of video gambling legalized last year in bars and restaurants to help pay for the $31 billion statewide construction program for schools and roads.

Mathias said the state should move forward with construction projects even with the uncertainty of video gambling revenues.

"Forget about the video gambling for a moment; we have really no capital construction going on, and it's been over a year since we passed that bill," Mathias said. "There's thousands of jobs on the line here."

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