Arlington Heights Village President Arlene Mulder didn't get a chance to bend Gov. Pat Quinn's ear on the issue of slots at Arlington Park racetrack during his visit to the town Thursday to sign new mental health legislation.
Mulder said she didn't think it was the appropriate forum, but added that she is working with Quinn's staff to get one-on-one time with the governor to discuss the proposed gambling expansion plan's effect on the village and the horse racing industry statewide.
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The loss of Arlington Park would be a huge blow to the village, which stands to lose $1 million in yearly revenue from the track and more than 4,000 seasonal jobs, Mulder said.
"Since 1927 Arlington Park has existed. It's been part of the community. It is truly an agricultural business," Mulder said. "What is being asked here is an additional revenue stream to make sure this industry, all its farmers, trainers, horsemen … continue to have a livelihood."
Statewide, roughly 50,000 horse racing/agriculture industry jobs are at stake, she added.
"I think most people tend to forget about that impact and it will be felt statewide," Mulder said. "This seems to be the most inappropriate time to really take away one of the last hopes that can sustain horse racing in the state of Illinois."
Mulder said she shares Quinn's concern over the size of the gambling expansion legislation, which not only would put 1,200 slots machines at Arlington Park and slots at racetracks statewide, but also allow five new casinos, including ones in Lake County, Chicago and Rockford.
Some changes to the plan are likely to come in the weeks ahead, but it is unclear which communities will get shut out of any revised legislation.
Quinn was dismissive of the expansion of slots and gambling in general as a means to achieving economic stability.
"Economic recovery to me is people working at jobs building and making things," he said. "We're not going to gamble our way to prosperity. I think people ought to beware of the notion that having more gambling in Illinois is going to lead to higher prosperity. Jobs follow brain power."
Quinn said the state should be investing in construction jobs, the green economy and water conservation, and put money into schools, community colleges and four-year educational institutions.
Quinn was wary of moving too fast on the gambling expansion legislation, which passed but has been held back from being sent for his signature as legislators maneuver to win Quinn's support for it.
"The legislation has serious shortcomings when it comes to ethical oversight," he said. "We can't do this in a hasty manner. I don't think we should be hasty with something as serious as gambling in the city of Chicago."
Quinn said he wants to make sure any gambling expansion is free from the influence of "wheelers and dealers" trying to corrupt the process.
"We all understand that we have to get the economy back on track with jobs," he said. "We're not going to adopt any legislation that doesn't have strong reform principles in the heart and center. We're not going to let any mayor, any politician or any gambling interest call the shots."