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Article updated: 10/18/2011 7:12 PM

Quinn not budging on slots at tracks

Gov. Pat Quinn

Gov. Pat Quinn

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Gov. Pat Quinn says he doesn't plan to compromise on his opposition to slot machines at Arlington Park, though he left the door open for negotiations on other measures that could help Illinois racetracks.

"They just want more," he said of the racetracks. "They want the opportunity to have their racetrack become a casino."

Quinn, following a lunchtime address at Chicago's University Club Tuesday, said money that is set aside for racetracks, including Arlington Park, to offset the impact of area casinos is help enough.

"The law in Illinois provides them an annual amount of money to support horse racing," Quinn said. "We can look at that amount from year to year -- that's what legislatures do. To me, that is a much better way to go than to say to each of the racetracks we're going to grant your wish to become a casino."

Arlington Park officials hold out hope that despite his strong statements, the governor may be swayed on his position on slots at racetracks.

Quinn, on Monday, put forth what he called a smaller and more balanced plan for expanding gambling in Illinois and provide for "adequate" revenue for the state.

By excluding slots at racetracks, his plan is counter to a proposal passed by the General Assembly last spring and threatens to derail agreement on any gambling legislation.

Quinn backed five additional casinos -- including ones in Lake County and Chicago -- which he said would protect the state from losing dollars to gambling competition at the borders.

He also recommended changes that would make local leaders specifically vote to allow video gambling machines at bars, rather than the current plan that requires a vote to block them.

Calling the legislation passed in the spring a "bum bill" that he had a responsibility to veto, Quinn said, "in order to have any kind of modest gambling expansion, it must be done right. It must be done right the first time. It can't be the kind of bill passed to appease every gambling lobbyist in Springfield."

Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serafin said the track's strategy, at the moment, is to "sit back with the industry and see what the governor and the legislature talk about" in the upcoming veto session, which begins next week.

"It's up to the House and the Senate," Serafin said. "We've had our say. We've expressed ourselves clearly. Everyone knows where we're coming from."

Track officials point out the casino impact fee dollars, which totaled $45 million for Arlington this year, must be approved by lawmakers each year and are therefore not a predictable source of income.

In fact, the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is supposed to give 15 percent of its receipts to the tracks. But the horse racing industry hasn't seen any of that money yet as state lawmakers haven't authorized the payout, a Racing Board spokesman said. Lawmakers adjourned their annual session in May before the Rivers Casino opened in July.

Once it's approved, that money would be divvied up via a formula laid out in Illinois law.

For years, state law has required Illinois' biggest casinos to hold back 3 percent of their receipts to give to the horse racing industry.

The casinos challenged the law in court, but in August those legal efforts fizzled and they had to give up the money they owed the tracks -- $141 million.

Of Arlington Park's $45 million share, more than half was meant to go to winning horse owners, according to figures provided by the Illinois Racing Board.

Serafin said the park remains hopeful of finding common ground with Quinn.

Arlington Park, he said, agrees with Quinn that additional gambling must be heavily regulated with the state's gaming board in charge.

"There's a lot we agree with," Serafin said. "Except that we're not included in the legislation."

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