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updated: 4/16/2013 5:01 AM

Horsemen want a share of any Internet gambling money

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  • Horsemen at Arlington Park say they should get a cut of the track's Internet gambling income, should it be approved.

       Horsemen at Arlington Park say they should get a cut of the track's Internet gambling income, should it be approved.
    file photo by Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- The association of horsemen who compete at Arlington Park said its members worry the track wouldn't share revenue with them if it's eventually allowed to offer gambling on the Internet.

The latest gambling expansion plan before lawmakers would allow Arlington Park, other tracks and existing casinos to buy $20 million licenses and set up operations online to let players bet on blackjack and other games from their computers or cellphones.

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It would also allow Arlington Park to have up to 1,200 slot machines, with some of the revenue from those machines going to prizes.

Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen Association President Michael Campbell said it would be unfair for some of the money from Internet gambling not to go to horse owners, trainers and others, too.

"It allows Arlington and (owner) Churchill Downs to be casino gaming empires," Campbell said.

After all, Campbell says, the track has fought for slot machines for years by arguing the revenue will also help the industry in general, from owners to jockeys to horse farms.

Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serafin said the track has supported the horsemen association's having its own Internet gambling license, and keeping the racing industry healthy remains the goal.

"Everything we do is about the horse racing," Serafin said.

Campbell said his nonprofit organization wouldn't be able to afford an Internet gambling license, and it wouldn't make sense to compete against a track the horsemen often partner with.

Whether the issue moves beyond discussion and disagreement remains to be seen.

Indeed, the debate over complicated gambling legislation in Springfield has become an annual rite of spring, and the legislation often changes as the debate evolves over the months.

A spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton said the legislation is likely to change in advance of a possible hearing later this month.

"A lot can happen between now and then," said spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon.

Lawmakers are looking for a way to approve slot machines at horse tracks, add casinos in Lake County and elsewhere and try to reap the resulting tax money for the struggling state budget.

The last two years, lawmakers have approved expansion plans, but they couldn't get past Gov. Pat Quinn.

Internet gambling wasn't part of those plans, though, and the idea of allowing Illinoisans to gamble online had complicated the debate even before Campbell raised the issue of sharing the revenues.

The Illinois Senate returns to work today.

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