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updated: 10/26/2010 12:30 AM

Community forum addresses slots at Arlington Park

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Slot machines at Arlington Park will hurt the local economy and create grief by increasing gambling addiction, some speakers said during a community meeting Monday night in Arlington Heights sponsored by Residents in Favor of Home Rule, the League of Women Voters of Arlington Heights and the Arlington Heights Ministerial Association.

While the three speakers on the panel spoke out against slots at the track, not all of the approximately 50 people who attended the session agreed.

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The Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce board voted to support the track expanding its business in whatever way the owners think is necessary, Executive Director Jon Ridler said during the event.

Questions were submitted in writing, but Alan Murdoch a retired teacher and longtime Arlington Heights resident engaged in a short debate with the panel, which included John Kindt, a professor of business from University of Illinois; Chris Anderson, a therapist and director of the Gambling Recovery Center in Evanston and Nancy Duel from Residents in Favor of Home Rule.

The track needs the slot machine income to increase race purses and attract better horses, which will mean bigger crowds, Murdoch said after the presentation. He said his only motivation for supporting the slots is what a vibrant track would mean to the village. If Arlington Park could afford races comparable to the Arlington Million every month of the season, that would bring more business to town, he added.

However, money spent gambling does not go toward expanding the consumer economy with the sale of goods such as food, clothing, cars, appliances and computers, Kindt said.

"It looks great on paper, the tax revenue," Kindt said. "But the cost to the business community and social costs are $3 to $4 to $5 for every dollar in benefits." He cited a study issued by a commission headed by the late Sen. Paul Simon on the impact of gambling.

For every dollar won gambling, at least $1 has to be lost, Anderson said, adding that 7,806 people in Illinois are in such pain from their gambling that they have put themselves on a list to be arrested on charges of trespassing if they enter a casino.

"Factor in the cost on the losing side of the bet. We're not dealing with the truth," Anderson said. "We have not even done something as simple as ask ourselves how much cost there is in arresting and prosecuting people who have stolen money to gamble."

He said the instant gratification of slot machines has hurt attendance at race tracks, and he does not think adding more machines will help the racing industry.

A bill allowing Cook County race tracks to each have 1,200 slot machines currently in the Illinois legislature could be debated in the veto session after the Nov. 2 election. Bill sponsors want to help the state's racing industry and raise funds for construction projects.

One issue is that the bill could institute slots without giving the Arlington Heights village board any right to say no, or even limit the number of machines or the hours or days of operation, Duel said.

Racetrack officials were invited to the forum, but sent a letter saying there was a scheduling conflict. They have said they need the slot machines to stay in business.

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