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updated: 5/18/2011 12:19 PM

Arlington Hts. board makes slot position clear without vote

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Village President Arlene Mulder said she was as surprised as anyone when Arlington Heights village trustees bared their souls about slots at Arlington Park very late Monday night.

After every trustee present made a statement -- which indicated the board as a whole supports slots -- they agreed that Mulder will write a letter to legislators saying the majority supports the expansion of gambling at the track.

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If the majority of the board (four trustees) is not satisfied with the letter, a special meeting will be called, probably for Monday, May 23. It appears unlikely, but if a special meeting is called the public would be able to speak to the issue.

On Tuesday, opponents of slots questioned the board taking this action without a public hearing and without the subject being on the meeting agenda.

"I am astounded at how this happened last night," said Judith Royal, an outspoken opponent of electronic gambling at the track. "This is not open government."

Mulder said trustees had not wanted the issue on the agenda, as some said they were not ready to discuss it before they saw specific plans or before they were sure the legislature would authorize the slots. The issue has failed in the legislature four previous times in Mulder's administration.

At what she thought was the end of Monday's meeting, Mulder read a statementthat did not mention slots, but did say it is critical to preserve Arlington Park and keep it viable.

Then, Trustee Joseph Farwell urged his fellow trustees to discuss the issue and take a stand while the legislature is still in session. He suggested a special meeting.

What followed was a poll of sorts of each trustee. Carol Blackwood and John Scaletta joined Mulder in supporting expanded gambling.

Farwell, Norm Breyer and Bert Rosenberg appeared to lean toward approval. Michael Sidor, who opposed slots during the recent campaign, slightly softened his opposition. Thomas Glasgow, an attorney, was absent because of a trial downstate.

Thomas Hayes, the only trustee who spoke against slots at Arlington Park, said it was obvious the majority of the board supported the gambling expansion.

"I don't see any point in another meeting," he said. "The majority of this board is OK with a casino in Arlington Heights. I am totally against another meeting to debate once again."

Mulder said she would not oppose a special meeting if the majority of the board supported it, but no trustees are presently calling for one.

Village Attorney Jack Siegel said at the meeting that writing a letter does not constitute formal action, and the "straw poll" of trustees did not constitute a vote.

Village sentiment, which was considered split rather evenly in 1995 when a referendum was held on whether gambling should be expanded at the track, has shifted dramatically in the last three years, Mulder said Tuesday.

The e-mails she receives and the people she talks with in the village either support or do not oppose increased gaming at the track because in this economy their chief concern is preventing tax increases.

"It's not like it's going to be in the heart of downtown or next to a park or church," said Mulder.

The village would hold public hearings if legislation passes and the track gets to the point of building a structure to house the slot machines, since that would probably go before the Plan and Design commissions, she said.

And she is not sure whether the letter she will send to legislators about Monday's meeting will satisfy the local lawmakers who called for the board to take a stand.

"It was not a board decision (Monday night)," she said, "It was individuals expressing their current thoughts or position on the concept of potential legislation."

The village calculates it receives $800,000 a year in direct taxes and fees from the track, including $300,000 in water and sewer fees, Village Manager Bill Dixon said Tuesday.

The $500,000 that goes into the general fund is from admission fees, property taxes, sales taxes and food and beverage taxes, he said.

In 2010 the track paid $2.4 million in property taxes to all local governments, according to a "white paper" that track executives delivered to trustees over the weekend. All government taxes and fees paid by Arlington Park and related companies totaled $9.29 million, the report said.

That report is online at Arlingtonfuture.com, and the track always planned to make it public through a statement written at the request of the Daily Herald editorial board, said Thomas Serafin, spokesman for the track.

Royal said statements made at Monday's board meeting showed the white paper apparently contains information that opponents have been requesting since at least October.

For example, the report says the slot machines will probably be allowed to operate from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. 364 days a year.

Royal said potential revenue for the village should be compared with additional costs such as increased village services.

Nancy Duel, who is part of a "remnant" of the group that got the issue on the ballot in 1995, agreed with Royal that electronic gambling will eventually mean the end of live horse racing at the track.

Track officials say the slots and other electronic gambling are needed so purses can be increased to attract better horses and more fans. Royal and Duel said the legislature could at any time decide it is legal to have slots without racing.

"I am disappointed that the board has not given any credibility to the information we have given them," said Duel.

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