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updated: 11/11/2010 6:07 PM

New gambling plan would mean lots more wagering options in suburbs

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  • Will slots come to Arlington Park? A new proposal would allow 1,200, well as more at existing riverboats and an additional five casinos.

      Will slots come to Arlington Park? A new proposal would allow 1,200, well as more at existing riverboats and an additional five casinos.
    Daily Herald Photo Illustration

  • Slot machines like those at WMS in Chicago could be coming to Arlington Park, under a new proposal that would allow a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois.

      Slot machines like those at WMS in Chicago could be coming to Arlington Park, under a new proposal that would allow a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- A new state gambling expansion proposal would mean up to 1,200 slot machines in Arlington Park, giving the track as many wagering spots as some Illinois casinos.

Legislation to give the track slot machines also would allow new casinos in Park City, Chicago, Ford Heights, Rockford and Danville.

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Lawmakers could debate the plan as early as Tuesday.

The existing Illinois casino industry opposes the plan, saying casino revenue is already dropping because of the recession. More gambling options would mean less money for existing casinos.

A recent report from the state's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability shows state gambling revenue dropped 4.5 percent since last year.

"This is a massive expansion," said Illinois Casino Gaming Association Executive Director Tom Swoik, who represents the casinos in Aurora and Elgin, among others. "The market will not hold this."

Under the new proposal, Arlington Park could have 1,200 slot machines. For comparison, the casinos in Elgin and Aurora now are allowed 1,200 gaming positions each, as will the casino opening in Des Plaines in summer 2011.

The legislation also would allow casinos to expand to 2,000 spots. And the Chicago casino could have 4,000.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and author of the plan, said he thinks there's plenty of room for more gambling and the local hotel and restaurant development that could come with it.

"You have competition in everything you do in life," Link said. "I think we're a long way from the saturation point."

Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serafin said the track wants the slot machines. But the legislation is large and complicated and probably won't be approved easily.

"This is a major piece of legislation that's going to take some time to look at," Serafin said.

While Arlington Park might want the slot machines, some Arlington Heights officials might not. But the legislation would prevent local officials from voting to block the slots.

Arlington Heights Village President Arlene Mulder said local officials have fought to keep local control since the idea of putting slot machines at the track first came up.

"It's been a long-standing position," Mulder said.

Meanwhile, because of General Assembly rules, the legislation in its current form couldn't be approved by both the House and Senate in their scheduled three days of session next week.

While a debate over the plan is scheduled for Springfield Tuesday, similar proposals to expand Illinois gambling options are discussed nearly every year. And nearly every year, expansions don't find enough support for approval.

Link said he's talked to both parties in the Senate and wants to move forward next week.

"Everything has its time," he said.

Link estimates the proposal could generate $400 million upfront for the state as casinos pay for licenses to build and expand. Then, the expansions could generate as much as $1 billion a year in revenue.

In total, the current legislation would create five new Illinois casinos and would give slot machines to six horse racing tracks across the state.

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