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Article updated: 1/20/2012 8:09 PM

Arlington Park to get cash from casinos instead of slots?

By Mike Riopell

SPRINGFIELD -- Renewed talks over how to expand gambling in Illinois include an option that would keep slot machines out of Arlington Park and instead have new and existing casinos send cash subsidies to the horse-racing industry to try to keep it afloat.

But track officials say they're going to keep trying for slot machines because they don't yet trust that those impact fees would ever come.

"We don't want a subsidy," said Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serafin. "We want to be able to run our business as a business. We don't want to be at the public trough."

Part of the tracks' concern with a subsidy program is that the one in place now hasn't yet brought them any money.

Under a years-old deal, when Illinois' 10th casino -- the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines -- opened, the facility would send 15 percent of its revenue to the horse-racing industry to help its struggling bottom line.

As of Dec. 31, more than $26 million had been collected, but it has not yet been sent to racetracks, according to the Illinois Gaming Board.

Gaming board spokesman Gene O'Shea said the board has tried. But the Illinois comptroller's office says the way the law is written, lawmakers have to vote to disburse the money.

They haven't. And they haven't changed the law to make the transfer automatic. So the idea of a subsidy in a new gambling plan might be met with heavy skepticism in the horse-racing industry.

"There's a considerable amount of money just sitting, not going anywhere, not doing anything," Serafin said.

The Rivers Casino subsidy replaced rules, which were held up in courts for years until 2011, that had all Illinois casinos sending 3 percent of their revenues to the horse-racing industry.

That long legal delay adds to the horse-racing industry's skepticism.

Gambling talks continued at a meeting in Springfield this week, where the subsidy idea came up as part of a proposal that also allows five new casinos, including ones in Lake County and Chicago.

The idea of subsidies was floated last year, but the horse-racing industry didn't support it. And a gambling plan without the industry's support isn't likely to find favor in Springfield.

Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat who attended the meeting, said he wouldn't move forward with a gambling expansion plan that the horse-racing industry didn't back, but he said talks will continue.

"The bottom line is, all options are being explored," he said.

"I think the impact fee is bad public policy. But worse public policy is not getting this bill done."

Lawmakers approved a proposal last year for the five new casinos along with up to 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park and other tracks.

But Quinn's strong opposition to slots at racetracks halted progress.

Talks are scheduled to continue in the coming weeks.

"We have been and continue to be open to discussions regarding a bill within the governor's framework," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.

Gambling: Horse tracks haven't seen promised subsidies yet

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