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updated: 4/9/2011 6:52 PM

Let the debate over slots at Arlington Park begin

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

For years, we have heard out of Springfield various proposals to install slot machines at Arlington Park, regardless of the views of the village of Arlington Heights where the racetrack sits.

You would have expected that this would have had Village President Arlene Mulder and the village board up in arms, that they would have called press conferences and marched on the state Capitol to express "How-dare-they!" outrage at the audacity of the legislature to try to usurp local control over such an important issue.

But they never did. Flatly, there might be some for-the-record harrumph over home rule at a village board meeting or some other almost-whispered expression of concern, but that's about as far as it would get. That's our arms-length perspective at least. Village officials may believe they protested more strongly than that, but it's felt more like a tap dance from the outside.

For just as long, we have heard various representatives of the track warn that its future is in jeopardy unless something -- usually slots -- was done to reverse its fortunes. Somewhere, in all these conversations, those representatives would detail what an asset Arlington Park is to the community.

You would have expected -- assuming this is the case and to a great extent, it is -- that track representatives would have shown up at the door to village hall to make its case and seek support.

But they seldom did. At least not in a public way. And village officials did not speak up -- at least not vociferously.

We can only assume that from everybody's perspective, it's been a political hot potato. And that it certainly has been. Surveys of the board and an aged referendum of the public indicate community sentiment is split. Kind of a no-win issue for elected officials; kind of a hornet's nest situation for the track.

But thankfully, during all this time, the legislature hasn't gone off and imposed its will over the rights of Arlington Heights to decide.

Meanwhile, there was a crack in this wall of muffled voices Thursday. Mulder said she's worried the track may close and that she'd "tolerate" slots rather than see it shuttered.

That was a significant development.

Let's be clear. We don't say we agree. We're reticent about slots. But we agree this much: Arlington Park is a tremendous asset to the community, and it's in everyone's interests to find a solution that makes it self-sustaining.

And more so, what we say is this:

The time for ducking the issue is over. It is time for a vigorous and healthy community debate over the future of Arlington Park, the depth of its contributions to the Northwest suburbs and what ought to be done to ensure its continued existence.

Maybe that includes slots. Maybe it doesn't.

But it's time to decide.