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updated: 1/12/2011 7:23 PM

Moylan relieved; Mulder worried over gambling expansion bill's demise

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  • Workers sweep off one of the decks at the new Des Plaines casino under construction along River Road.

       Workers sweep off one of the decks at the new Des Plaines casino under construction along River Road.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The old paddock at Arlington Heights has seen a lot of racing since 1927.

      The old paddock at Arlington Heights has seen a lot of racing since 1927.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
 

Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan sighed with relief Wednesday over the demise of a huge gambling expansion package that he believes would have hurt the city's casino, opening late summer.

A scant few miles away, Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder is pondering the future of Arlington Park racetrack, now that slot machines won't be a reality anytime soon.

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Suburbs that stood to gain from the gambling expansion are reeling from the state House's inaction that killed the proposal approved by the Senate late last year. The House adjourned late Tuesday without debating the proposal, which in its most recent form, would have allowed Arlington Park to have 1,200 slot machines and Illinois to get five new casinos, including ones in Chicago, Park City, Rockford and the South suburbs.

Moylan agrees with critics who say the proposal failed because it was too huge.

"I think that any expansion of gambling has to be well thought (out) and there's ramifications on both sides," Moylan said.

Last fall, Moylan and the mayors of eight other Illinois casino towns formed a coalition, urging state lawmakers to reject slot machines at Illinois' horse racetracks.

The mayors said their communities can't afford the loss of casino jobs that slots at the racetracks would cause.

While Des Plaines fought hard against the gambling expansion -- spending thousands of dollars and hiring additional lobbyists -- recent amendments to the proposal were favorable to the city, Moylan said.

Among those amendments was a provision that Des Plaines would receive a third of the revenues from admissions at Arlington Park to offset any losses due to slots being there, and as relief for the $300 million the city must pay the state over the next 30 years -- the deal that landed Des Plaines the 10th and final casino license.

"If the bill was going to succeed, we needed some protections for our residents in the city," Moylan said. "We have to do everything we can to keep and secure all the jobs at the construction site and also as the casino opens."

Job losses are also what Mulder is worried about.

"I'm very concerned about maintaining the viability of our track," Mulder said. "It's (been) such a part of Arlington Heights since 1927."

Arlington Park generates roughly $1 million in yearly revenue for the village in food and beverage sales, liquor license fees, admissions taxes and property taxes. If the track had gotten the slots, the village stood to gain roughly 3 percent of annual gambling revenues, an estimated $3.5 million.

"We haven't really been pushing for slots," Mulder said. "We've been trying to be supportive to retain our racetrack. It's a long established industry in the state of Illinois. It obviously has been impacted since the first casinos opened."

Mulder fears the track could close like it did for two years in the 1990s, and once again change its classification to agriculture, costing the village in property tax revenues. There have been signals for more than a year that if something doesn't change, the track's stockholders may pull the plug.

"And the million that we get would create another hole," she said. "This is the third or fourth year now that we are looking at more cuts (in the village budget). We've closed programs and facilities. We've let people go. We haven't been getting raises. To lose another revenue stream is making our challenges more difficult."

Village officials also are concerned that developers are shying away from buying the vacant Sheraton Chicago Northwest hotel, which closed in late 2009, depriving the village of $400,000 in yearly tax revenues.

"Any developer would be concerned about the viability of the track," Mulder said.

Thom Serafin, Arlington Park spokesman, said state lawmakers should be concerned about the 30,000 jobs supported by Illinois' horse racing industry.

"There are a lot of other people involved other than Arlington Park and their livelihood is seriously in jeopardy," he said. "This exercise in Springfield is going on for two decades. It's the end of the road for a lot of people in the business."

Serafin said the owner of Arlington Park, the Duchossois family, is committed to making sure the track doesn't close.

"But there is a great deal of economic stress obviously," Serafin said. "The key now is to put on a great meet and make sure we have enough participants to get on the track."

Arlington Park racing begins May 6 and runs through Sept. 25. Des Plaines' $450 million casino is scheduled to open in July 2011.

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