Mayoral candidates discuss slots at Arlington Park
With one of the strongest proponents of slots at Arlington Park scheduled to leave office in April and no gambling bill yet signed in Springfield, eyes are on the three candidates running for Arlington Heights village president to see how strongly they will carry the torch for the track.
Retiring Village President Arlene Mulder said bringing slots to Arlington Park is an issue she will hopes will get done before her last day in office on April 30, but Gov. Pat Quinn has already vetoed one gambling bill and doesn't yet have a new one on his desk.
Over her 20 years as mayor, Mulder has made many trips to Springfield in an effort to persuade lawmakers to support a gambling expansion that would support the local racetrack.
"It's on my to-do list and I'm trying to get all my to-do lists done in time," she said.
Two of the three mayoral candidates say pushing slots would be a priority for them, but not the one candidate Mulder has endorsed — Trustee Tom Hayes.
While he said he always votes to help the track, Hayes he has not changed his opinion against what he sees as a casino at the track.
He said he would be willing to compromise and allow slots during racing hours, but he would not be in favor of having a separate area open year-round to house slot machines.
"I'm not anti-gambling and it's not that I don't trust the track to regulate it," said Hayes, who has been on the village board since 1991.
"(But) to me that is a casino. It's just the image it creates for Arlington Heights."
People point out that gambling is already occurring at the track, but Hayes says horse racing and casinos are "apples and oranges."
His opponents don't agree.
"There's already gambling at the track so I don't see it as being much different," said candidate Ron Drake. Drake was formerly mayor of Avondale, a suburb of Phoenix, Ariz., which is home to the Phoenix International Raceway. He says that gives him experience running a town with a major sports entertainment venue.
"If (slots) help keep the track viable for the community, where it's such an important part of our economy, I think it's a good idea," Drake said.
Candidate Mark Hellner agrees, although adds he has concerns about the execution.
Hellner, an attorney, was general counsel and ethics officer for the Illinois Department of Revenue for two years, overseeing the legal needs for the Illinois Gaming Board, the Racing Board, the Lottery and the Liquor Commission.
"Racing has hit a lot of stumbles in the last few years," Hellner said. "But, slots at the track are an element for its survival. It will help them maintain viability and the racetrack is a huge magnet for Arlington Heights."
Mulder has said the issue is not so much about supporting gambling as it is about supporting the racetrack.
"It's been a source of pride to say that we're the home of Arlington Park and with the changing industry and economy it's about realizing how much would change if the track were to close," Mulder said. She pointed to the property taxes and the hotel, restaurant and sales taxes the track has generated, as well as the potential loss of an iconic entertainment venue that has been in the Northwest suburbs since the 1920s.
"It's beyond the issue of slots and more about saving the track," she said.
While Hayes said he doesn't personally agree with a major slots expansion, he won't strongly advocate against it.
"I understand my position is a minority position on the board and I'm willing to defer to the majority in that case," he said. "I'm still hopeful and confident that the track will remain a critical component of Arlington Heights for years to come."
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