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updated: 5/22/2011 9:30 AM

Gaming Assoc. exec: Stop bailing out track

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  • Thomas F. Swoik

    Thomas F. Swoik

By Tom Swoik | Executive director, Illinois Casino Gaming Association

Why should Illinois taxpayers continue to bail out the racetrack industry?

Proposals in Springfield to add more casinos and put slot machines at racetracks won't help the state but would instead add to the massive government-sponsored bailout given a few wealthy racetrack owners. Current state gaming requirements and regulations put Illinois at a competitive disadvantage compared to surrounding states, namely a significantly higher tax rate and nonsmoking gaming floors... Adding more positions won't attract business from out of state but would simply shift business from one Illinois entity to another.

A quick check on the facts:Today, horse racing industry groups collectively receive $30 million per year in state subsidies. This July, when the state's 10th riverboat casino begins operating, their state subsidies will nearly triple to about $90 million annually ...

And yet for the racing industry, that massive $90 million annual bailout still is not enough. Unlike other states currently pursuing slots at tracks, Illinois' race tracks receive these massive subsidies from state taxpayers.

The racing industry is arguing for a bigger bailout and says the issue is about jobs in their industry. But their job estimates are overstated, according to an Innovation Group study, and instead of the 37,000 jobs the industry promotes, the number of full-time direct racing jobs is closer to 6,300Unfortunately, passing a proposal to add gaming positions now won't help the state's finances anyway. Revenues at the state's existing nine casinos are dramatically down, falling 32 percent since 2008. Adding new casinos and slots at racetracks would decrease revenues at the existing riverboats by at least another 20 percent.

These reductions will decrease the revenues at the local communities where the casinos are located and if the revenues from slots at tracks are earmarked for capital improvement, education will suffer additional losses since casino taxes now totally go to fund education. In the next few days, state lawmakers may be asked to vote on a legislative proposal to enlarge and extend this massive government -- sponsored bailout of the wealthy racetrack owners.

That would be a tough vote to explain to taxpayers back home. After all, taxpayers, how much is your government bailout this year