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updated: 4/16/2014 6:07 PM

Arlington racetrack: Half the slots won't cut it

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  • Illinois racetracks are balking at a gambling proposal that would cut the number of slot machines to 600, but a competing plan wouldn't have any.

    Illinois racetracks are balking at a gambling proposal that would cut the number of slot machines to 600, but a competing plan wouldn't have any.
    Daily Herald file photo

By Zachary White

After years of pushing for slots machines at racetracks, some horse racing advocates are worried the smaller number proposed in a new plan won't generate enough money.

The current plan would allow for 600 slot machines at Arlington International Racecourse, half the 1,200 called for in previous plans that were vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

"All right, we'll exist. Horse racing will exist with (600) machines. But we will not flourish. We will not flourish like other states," said Bob Molaro, an industry lobbyist.

The proposal also includes the possibility of creating five casinos throughout the state, including a casino in Lake County. That plan and a competing one for a single large, new casino in Chicago were the focus of discussion during a daylong hearing on gambling expansion.

State Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat, said racetracks don't have slot machines now so adding any should be considered a benefit.

Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said the market is already saturated and adding more gambling would be bad.

He said more than 3,000 bars and restaurants in the state have gambling machines and more are added all the time, giving people a closer location to spend their gambling money and creating the equivalent of a new casino every month.

"There are now equivalent to almost 13 new casinos in the state. It's not almost; it is 13 new casinos in the state. Double the number of casinos that we had before slot machines began operating in the local communities," Swoik said.

Arlington argues the gambling market still has room to grow, while opponents dislike more competition.

Courtney Nottage, a lobbyist for the Arlington International Racecourse, said Illinois has fewer gambling spots -- slot machines or chairs at table games -- per adult than surrounding states.

Nottage said there are 728 adults in Illinois per gambling position, while the surrounding states of Indiana, Iowa, Missouri have 159 adults per position.

If five new casinos and the slots at racetrack were created, Nottage said there would be one gambling spot per 266 adults in Illinois.

Lawmakers also discussed abandoning the broader proposal and putting a single large casino in downtown Chicago with up to 10,000 positions, which some said would not saturate the market but would rather bring in more gambling interest as it would become part of a national market.

Lawmakers still haven't decided which gambling expansion route to take or if they plan to approve one at all. The fact that prior gambling proposals have been vetoed by Quinn or have stalled before making it to his desk, coupled with the fact that it is an election year, might make lawmakers skittish.

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