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updated: 10/18/2011 6:49 AM

Quinn gambling plan snubs Arlington Park, backs Lake County casino

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  • Gov. Pat Quinn says no slot machines at Arlington Park.

       Gov. Pat Quinn says no slot machines at Arlington Park.
    GEORGE LECLAIRE | Staff Photographer

  • Gov. Pat Quinn says no to slot machines at Arlington Park.

       Gov. Pat Quinn says no to slot machines at Arlington Park.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- A longtime push to put more than 1,000 slot machines at Arlington Park once again faces an unclear future now that Gov. Pat Quinn has announced it's not part of his gambling expansion vision.

And while Quinn endorsed the idea of a new casino in Lake County when he announced a gambling expansion framework Monday, his tinkering with the proposal already approved by lawmakers could mean Lake County casino supporters will have to keep waiting.

Quinn has been talking about making the gambling proposal approved by lawmakers smaller. And on Monday, he made clear he wanted slot machines at neither Arlington Park nor O'Hare International Airport.


"We're talking about casinos at racetracks," Quinn said. "Don't kid yourself."

But Quinn -- who also backed a new casino in Chicago, one in the south suburbs and two downstate -- might be optimistic to think his plan could pass muster with lawmakers, many of whom voted "yes" for provisions that Quinn has now declared distasteful.

"I have a real concern about the existence of Arlington Park now," said Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican who voted for the original proposal. "That is the primary reason I voted for the bill to begin with."

The next showdown over the future of gambling in the suburbs could start when lawmakers return to Springfield next week.

In the meantime, Sen. Terry Link said Monday that he already plans to file a revised gambling plan soon in an effort to satisfy some of Quinn's requests.

It won't match up with Quinn's plan, though, the Waukegan Democrat said.

"I think it will address a lot of his concerns," Link said, while declining to give specifics.

Negotiations could continue, though. And if either side gives a little, Arlington Park slots could perhaps go back on the table in the future.

Arlington Heights Village Manager Bill Dixon called it "very disappointing" that Quinn "is taking action that reflects a lack of recognition as to the importance of the horse racing industry in the state. That industry is bigger than just Arlington Park," he said.

Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat who often champions gambling legislation in the Illinois House, said he wouldn't ask for a vote on a plan that doesn't include slot machines at racetracks.

"Even if I were to run it, I cannot pass it," Lang said.

Still, Quinn pushed hard against the proposal the Illinois General Assembly approved in the spring.

"As long as I'm governor, Illinois will not become the Las Vegas of the Midwest," he said.

Quinn called the bill already passed by legislators "top-heavy with too many new gambling locations."

He said he would only support a smaller, more balanced and modest expansion that provided "adequate" revenue for state education and infrastructure.

Quinn also called for more Illinois Gaming Board oversight of a proposed Chicago casino.

On that point, Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan praised Quinn, saying a Chicago facility should face the same scrutiny as the new Rivers Casino in his city.

But new, big casinos nearby could threaten Rivers and Elgin's Grand Victoria Casino competitively. Moylan said he is more worried about a Lake County casino.

"We're concerned," Moylan said.

Moylan was one of dozen officials on either side of the issue that met with Quinn over the summer.

Quinn met with Arlington Park General Manager Tony Petrillo, Hawthorne President Tim Carey and other racing officials just Friday morning.

Those present at that meeting said Quinn hinted at the fact that he would not be signing the legislation in its current form.

"The governor's decisions could jeopardize thousands of jobs at Arlington and around the state," Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serafin said.

Yet, Serafin also noted that Quinn is "doing the best he can with the information he has."

It's Arlington's intent, Serafin said, "to be a valuable resource for more information."

"The governor's right about the fact we need strong oversight," he said. He disputed the point, however, that the market was already saturated enough with slots.

Quinn also recommended changes to the Illinois law that allows video gambling machines in bars. The program has been delayed by the work of state regulators, but many suburbs have already outlawed the machines.

Quinn is suggesting that local leaders should have to vote to allow the machines, instead of having to vote to block them.

Many suburban officials have already expressed hesitance at adopting video gambling in bars, so Quinn's idea could all but put the program on ice if approved.

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