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updated: 11/15/2010 7:03 PM

Casino towns band together to fight slots at tracks

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Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan and the mayors of eight other Illinois casino communities are urging state lawmakers to reject proposed slot machines at Illinois' horse racetracks.

The mayors, in a statement issued Monday, say their riverfront communities are struggling and can't afford the loss of casino jobs that slots at the racetracks would cause.

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The statement comes as the mayors of Aurora, Elgin, Joliet, Peoria, Alton, East St. Louis, Des Plaines, Rock Island and Metropolis form a new coalition called Cities Against Slots at the Tracks.

Coalition representatives are headed to Springfield Tuesday to protest the legislation.

The casino industry provides nearly 7,500 jobs and generates more than $1 billion in revenue each year. In 2008, the industry spent nearly $146 million with local vendors and suppliers, and to stimulate tourism, according to the mayors' release.

Among the proposals being considered by lawmakers is legislation that would allow 6,300 slot machines at Illinois' six racetracks, including Arlington Park, and create five additional casino licenses one each for Chicago, Lake County, Danville, Ford Heights and Rockford.

"The intent of the original Illinois Riverboat Gambling Act of 1990 was to create jobs in older Illinois River communities with a need for economic development projects," Aurora Mayor Thomas Weisner, whose city has the Hollywood Casino, said in the news release. "We should continue to focus on the original intent of the act, which is providing jobs and economic development for river cities, not for millionaire track owners and well-to-do communities."

Arlington Heights Village President Arlene Mulder said all mayors should support any kind of revenue stream benefiting their communities. If Arlington Park gets slots, Arlington Heights could get roughly 3 percent of the annual gambling revenues, an estimated $3.5 million.

While the revenues are needed, the issue is bigger than just money, Mulder said.

"The thing that's more concerning than perhaps money is jobs," Mulder said. "There's thousands of people statewide that are employed, and have been for decades, for the horse racing industry. And to allow our tracks not to be able to sustain themselves and to compete with neighboring states is an issue. My concern is sustaining horse racing ... and obviously Arlington Park is an important part of Arlington Heights' economy."

Arlington Heights itself hasn't lobbied for or against slots, but leaders have continually called for local control of the issue.

"As the legislation reads right now, it does pre-empt us from preventing it," Mulder said.

Elgin Mayor Ed Schock said that the Grand Victoria "will suffer terribly" with slots at Arlington Park.

"This legislation further divides the state's pool of gambling revenues and shortchanges the same river communities that the original riverboat gambling law was meant to support," Schock said.

In fiscal year 2010, the state's overall gambling receipts were little over $1 billion a drop of 4.5 percent, or $48 million, from 2009 almost entirely due to lower casino revenue. Lottery and horse racing revenues held flat, according to a report from the General Assembly's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Moylan, whose $450 million Des Plaines casino is scheduled to open in November 2011, said the legislation will hurt Des Plaines.

"If we are talking about saving jobs in Illinois, let's protect the employment of more than 7,500 people already working at our riverboat casinos in the state," Moylan said.

However, if the issue is preserving jobs, then the state should be concerned about the 30,000 jobs supported by Illinois' horse racing industry, said Tom Serafin, Arlington Park spokesman.

"It's all the walkers, the trainers, the farmers, the truck drivers ... we have a huge farm in the back where 2,400 horses are cared for every day, washed and ridden," Serafin said. "Unfortunately, those numbers are dwindling and people are taking their best horses out of state.

"If you want to level the playing field you give everybody an opportunity to compete with the same rules, governed by the same people," he added. "This has got to be a statewide solution."

With additional gambling revenues, Arlington Park can pay out higher purses, get better horses, and draw more attendance, Serafin said.

"You need winners to get the crowd to show," he said.

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