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updated: 4/12/2011 11:03 PM

Arlington Hts. board divided on slots

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Expansion of gambling at Arlington Park is a divisive issue with the Arlington Heights village board, even after Village President Arlene Mulder said her fear of losing the track is so strong she now can "tolerate" the idea of slots at the racetrack.

Polled by the Daily Herald, three of the eight sitting trustees say they support slots at the track or are leaning that way; two gave an unequivocal "no"; and three are on the fence, saying they might support more limited proposals.

The percentages won't change when the new board is seated in May -- since departing Trustee Tom Stengren's "no" vote will be replaced with Mike Sidor's "no" vote, at least for the present.

While Arlington Park owners have said for many years expanded gambling is necessary if the track is to stay open, the possibility that horseman Frank C. Calabrese could leave the track because of the small purses is evidence of real problems, village officials agree.

Arlington Heights trustees have complained that proposed legislation overrules the village's home rule authority -- and can put slots at the track whether the village wants them or not.

Still, Trustee Tom Glasgow said Arlington Heights will retain some control through building construction permits and traffic access. Glasgow, an attorney, said Arlington Park is one of the most beautiful race tracks in the nation, and he trusts ownership not to do something "gaudy or garish."

Glasgow pointed out that the track is the village's second largest employer after Northwest Community Hospital. He lives three blocks away, and says the track is unobtrusive to residential areas.

"If we were given the ability to decide, I think I am leaning toward allowing it," said Glasgow. Still, he said, he's not firmly in the "yes" column.

"I haven't heard all the evidence. It's being litigated in another forum -- Springfield."

Trustee Joseph Farwell is also leaning toward approval, but he prefers legislation that permits the village board to make the final decision after a public hearing. He thinks residents will get behind it.

"I don't think a majority of the constituents want to see the track go dark because they weren't allowed to have slots," Farwell said.

He agrees with Mulder that the nearby Sheraton Chicago Northwest hotel might never reopen without the track, and added the whole business area would become a "real suburban blight."

Carol Blackwood, just elected to a 4year term after a year on the board as an appointee, said her support for slots at the track stands.

"It's a business decision, based on Arlington Park's review of their business plan," she said.

Trustees less willing to take a firm stand include Norm Beyer, who many say lost his seat on the board in 1997 partly due to the work of anti-gambling forces. Breyer said he would look at any proposal but opposes 24-hour gambling.

Perhaps slots should be allowed only during racing season, said Breyer, and he wants an updated sense of what residents think.

Bert Rosenberg said he does not flat-out oppose expanding gambling, and said the track should be given help. But he mentioned 100 slot machines, not 1,200.

"There needs to be a dialogue, a forum with legislators, the village and the public," he said. "How do people feel about it and what's the track's approach and how they envision it would get done?"

John Scaletta, just elected to his second term, said he has not seen a formal proposal from the racetrack.

"How many machines, what will the facilities be, the hours, where will people park, what does the chief of police say, and what revenue would this generate?" asked Scaletta.

A longtime opponent to expanded gambling, Trustee Thomas Hayes, who was just elected to his fifth term, said his position is still to oppose "a casino to be placed at the track or anywhere in the village."

"My only flexibility would be a very small number (of slots) that would be placed within the existing facility and only operational and accessible during racing times," he said.

But Hayes said he has heard no proposals except for putting 1,200 machines in a separate building on Arlington Park grounds, apart from the grandstand.

Tom Stengren, who is retiring from the board next month, said he is opposed to expanding gambling on general principle, although he loves the track.

Trustee-elect Mike Sidor, who will be sworn in next month to replace Stengren, said he also opposes slot machines at the track. He allowed he would be wiling to listen "to any and all information and weigh that information."

The current bill introduced by Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, would allow up to 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park, which would be open to gamblers even when racing is not under way.

Just exactly how many hours a day the slots would be open is unclear. Last year, opponents complained the legislation appeared to permit 24-hour gambling at the track, but the Illinois Gaming Board has curtailed the hours the state's casinos can operate and regulators presumably could do the same at the track.