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posted: 6/6/2013 5:21 PM

Track officials still hold out hope for slots

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Arlington Park officials are still hopeful slot machines will eventually come to the track, even though lawmakers left Springfield last week without voting on the latest version of the gambling expansion bill.

The bill that passed the Illinois Senate in early May would give Arlington Park 1,200 slot machines, which supporters say is necessary to keep the track viable. The bill also would bring several new casinos to Illinois, including one in Chicago.

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Gov. Pat Quinn also told lawmakers he won't consider a gambling bill until the pension crisis is fixed.

"It was disappointing, but we're still working and we're hopeful that sometime down the road the issue will be revisited," said Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serefin.

"We agree with the governor that our fiscal issues are the most important thing to solve right now in Illinois, so we understand there will be no advancement on our bill until that happens," he said.

Serefin said he thinks Quinn is more positive about the latest piece of gambling legislation. In March, the governor vetoed a gambling bill because he had ethical concerns about how the expansion would be implemented.

Arlington Heights area legislators are split over the legislation. State Sen. Matt Murphy supports the latest bill, but state Reps. David Harris and Tom Morrison oppose it.

Harris, whose 66th district includes much of Arlington Heights but not the track, said the latest bill had a lack of oversight for the Chicago casino.

"I can support slots at the track," Harris said. "I can also support a casino for Chicago, however, the Chicago casino has to operate under the same rules as everybody else. There is no reason Chicago should play by different rules."

"If this was a bill that just said 'put slots at the track' I'd go for it, but that's not what the bill does," he added.

Morrison, whose 54th district includes the track, has been consistently opposed to the latest bill, saying the expansion is too large with too little oversight.

"I've been told that we'll never see a bill that only has slots at the track," Morrison said. "As these bills have been presented, I can't support any of them."

Morrison said he tries to support the track when he can. He voted for a provision that would bring back online wagering, which expired at the end of 2012, causing Arlington and other racetracks to lose thousands of dollars of revenue.

With legislators being called back to Springfield for a special session later this month, Harris and Morrison said pensions are the top priority.

Serefin said he is hopeful the pension crisis will be worked out by the end of 2013, which would bring the gambling bill back into play late in the year or early in 2014 -- although by then candidates may be getting ready for another campaign season.

"We keep going at it. There was a lot of positive in this last legislative session," Serefin said.

Meanwhile another year without slots will have an impact on the track, he said.

"It's tough to compete because it's not a level playing field industrywide," Serefin said. "It hurts us in that we don't get the best athletes on our track, then you don't have enough people coming to watch and we aren't encouraging new fans to the sport.

"And, from a jobs standpoint it would be a tremendous boost."

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